By DARRELL JACKSON, The Glendale Star
One year after discussing major changes to the city’s annual signature events, Glendale Glitters kicked off Nov. 26 with the lighting of lights during a celebration in front of thousands of attendees in downtown Murphy Park.
While there were obvious changes and improvements to the area, including fewer vendors in the Murphy Park area, questions and issues were raised from attendees and business owners during the opening weekend.
“There are a lot less tents and vendors in (Murphy Park), that is nice,” said Peoria’s Gilbert Juarez, who was attending with his two children. “But, it doesn’t have any feeling and my kids have wanted to leave since we got here, because they have said it isn’t fun.”
Glendale Glitters, Arizona’s largest free holiday light display, opened with Glendale 2016 Police Officer of the Year, Badr Elkhannoussi, flipping the switch to officially turn on the lights and start the festivities.
“All the changes we discussed internally and with council was, we wanted to reduce the footprint in Murphy Park to make it easier to enjoy the lights and ambiance and expand the footprint over a larger area, and we feel we have done what we wanted to do,” City Manager Kevin Phelps said. “This was done for the benefit of all downtown and Catlin Court business and we feel it was a success.”
Reaction from attendees was mixed and seemed to contradict staff reaction.
“Even the lights are so blah now, especially when I can see more intricate and amazing displays at houses nearby,” Juarez said. “My (7-year-old) daughter was more amazed at some of the houses around our home than with Glendale Glitters.”
Visitors walked around sampling holiday entertainment, food, gifts, a winter wonderland (artificial snow) and petting zoo, shopping, bounce houses, zip line and Santa Claus. Performances in the countdown program included those from the On Stage Dance Academy, Spotlight Youth Theatre, Chicks with Picks trio, and the Fiesta Mexicana Dance Company.
“The performances were nice, but it just did not feel like the holidays during this year’s event,” said Patricia Gomez of Glendale. “I have been bringing my children here for five years and this was the first time my kids said they don’t want to return.”
Ocotillo District Councilmember Jamie Aldama said he had also received calls from visitors and downtown business owners with questions about the changes.
“I heard from some citizens, visitors and business owners with complaints and questions about opening weekend of Glendale Glitters,” Aldama said. “There were questions about missing merchants and vendors that have been here every year before that were not here this year. Business owners also said foot traffic was way down this year and they believe it affected some of their sales.”
But Aldama was quick to point out some changes that had a positive effect on opening weekend.
“First off, it is really exciting to have the 24th annual event and over the past year, city staff and council was asked to improve the event and specifically make it more open in Murphy Park to walk around, and staff did that,” Aldama said. “Walkability improved and the lights on the buildings and (parking) garage were fantastic, along with lighting up the entrance at 57th and Grand avenues was amazing.”
But Aldama mentioned complaints and issues he believes need to be addressed.
“One issue that was brought to my attention was that parking had a couple of issues, including visitors who said they had to walk a long distance and local residents, who said cars were blocking their driveways,” Aldama said. “Also, the beer garden was moved along Glenn Drive from around the corner and I believe it should be moved back to (58th Avenue) and we are looking at that for future weekends.”
While Murphy Park had fewer tents and vendors located directly in the park, a number of visitors questioned what the city was doing with the noticeable changes.
“I just don’t understand what is actually different,” said Sandra Williamson of Glendale. “This was supposed to be the big unveiling of all the changes that was discussed with council and, to me at least, nothing seems different. It has no feeling here this year.”
During a recent Downtown Merchant and Stakeholder meeting, numerous downtown business owners also questioned what was going on with the city’s special events.
Among the issues raised by merchants was safety, questions about what is and is not allowed to be sold, or done in front of their businesses during the event weekends.
“I had a couple of downtown business owners who told me their sales were down 50 percent from opening weekend (in 2016),” Aldama said. “I think we need to decide what Glitters is meant for and what is our goal.”
Phelps added that the idea on the changes implemented was to widen the footprint to nearby streets and business, which, he said, they did, and as always to showcase the businesses downtown.
“This is meant to bring people to experience the downtown area,” Phelps said. “Foot traffic in the Caitlin Court area was up, according to a number of the business owners, and they appreciated the changes we made this year.”
Aldama was quick to point out that the city needs to decide what the event is for and how they can improve the quality of the events for all attendees.
“City staff and council need to define what the events are because it is very important for the downtown area,” Aldama said. “Are these events to bring sales to downtown businesses, or is the goal just to bring bodies downtown? Either way, after 24 years, we need to improve the event and try and make high revenues for downtown and continue to make it a high level experience.”
Glendale Chamber of Commerce President Robert Heidt said while business owners were appreciative of some of the changes, more needs to be done.
“There has been a lot of conversation on changes, but the city still seems to not listen to the downtown merchants and the issues they are having,” Heidt said. “I feel there needs to be one person who has final say on issues and can make necessary changes that are communicated from local business owners. Sometimes, there are just too many cooks in the kitchen and no common sense is used on issues being brought up.”
Heidt added that while the events are important for the downtown area, maybe it is time for the city to get out of the special-event business.
“I would look at the level that these events have grown to and maybe there should be one person who can make decisions in senior management,” Heidt said. “Or, maybe the city just needs to ask if they should even be doing these events and they should hire someone to run them for the city.”