In an effort to promote downtown Sequim more fully, a group of merchants and residents asked for a contract Monday night with the City of Sequim to open up Centennial Place at the corner of Washington Street and Sequim Avenue and support some expenditures for special events.
Joe Irvin, special projects manager for the city, said the request from the Merchant’s Group, a non-dues paying group through the Sequim- Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, asks for a contract of up to $5,000 and to allow mobile food vendors at Centennial Place during eight special events.
Those events include include Whodunnit, BirdQuest/BirdFest, Girl’s Night Out, Family Day with Santa Downtown and the Community Tree Lighting, Holiday Passports, and the July-September First Friday Art Walks.
Elements of the $5,000 contract would include marketing, such as advertising and hiring a poster artist, printing, decorative elements, hiring local musicians, and hiring event support at minimum wage for tasks such as delivering posters and pickup supplies as needed.
Irvin said some businesses report five to six customers visiting during First Friday Art Walk and up to 300 during a special event.
Ultimately, Sequim City councilors wanted more time to discuss the contract and continued it to their July 14 meeting.
Some city councilors like Erik Erichsen said residents would want deliverables on their investment.
“We’re committing taxpayers’ money to promote businesses,” he said. “We need to show them how it has been successful or not.”
Councilor Ted Miller strongly opposed the contract because he said it subsidizes a special interest group.
“It sets a horrible precedent,” he said. “Where will it end? Get ready to subsidize the Irrigation Festival, Lavender Festival, Balloon Festival and 100 other ideas to promote business.”
Miller added that he’s been told voters are overwhelmingly opposed to the contract, and he also opposes it because it wasn’t budgeted and that the businesses should pay for it.
Councilor Ken Hays said he favors the contract.
“I hope for us not to get lost in rhetoric of supporting private business or not,” he said. “We’re helping to implement the goals of the downtown plan.”
Several business owners and residents spoke on the proposal.
Liz Harper, co-chairman of the Merchant’s Group, said their intent with the contract was to increase life downtown.
“Merchants will continue funding the event,” she said. “Our plan was to go over and above that and create a great environment.”
Shelli Robb-Kahler, executive director of the chamber of commerce, said they don’t have funding for the events and they do it for the fun of it.
Renne Brock-Richmond, founder of the First Friday Art Walk, said there’s no cost to participate and in its second year the Museum & Arts Center saw 500 people go through its doors.
Another element to the proposal that brought some confusion for councilors was adding food trucks.
Faye Quinn, a supporter of Maggie May’s Espresso & Outfitter, was concerned the city would further limit the mobile food vendor from operating in the city.
Harper said the merchant’s proposal didn’t propose any city code changes and that food trucks were a small part of the events along with adding music and an exciting atmosphere.
City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the city currently doesn’t allow mobile food vendors to operate in downtown unless permitted and under special hours of operation provisions.
Dianne Drake, co-owner of Sunshine Cafe, wanted clarification on if non-mobile food truck vendors could participate in special events.
On Tuesday, Jack Dodge, city senior planner, said Maggie May’s is the only licensed mobile food vendor in the city and those wanting to participate in the proposed special events would need a city business license and a mobile food permit along with other provisions such as signage and trash containers.
Currently, Maggie May’s is the only licensed mobile food vendor in the city, he said.