Tag Archives: phoenix convention and visitors bureau

At First Fridays, thousands of residents and visitors gather - AZ Business Magazine June 2010

Downtown Art Walk Is A Homegrown Success

If you’ve ever been to the Downtown Phoenix area on the first Friday night of the month, you most likely noticed that the streets were alive with people. At First Fridays, thousands of residents and visitors gather to tour more than 70 galleries, venues and art-related shops in what has become one of the largest, free, self-guided art walks in the country.

The event has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1994, when it was “an informal, self-guided tour of art spaces Downtown,” says Greg Esser, a key player in the Artlink First Fridays program. Today, the events attract more than 15,000 people to the Downtown area each month.

Esser credits the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau (GPCVB) in part for the growth and success of First Fridays.

“The GPCVB has been a critical partner in making sure this success doesn’t remain a ‘best kept secret,’” he says. “ The efforts of the GPCVB have expanded the word-of-mouth phenomenon that started First Fridays, into national coverage and recognition for the event that now attracts visitors from well beyond the state line.”

Doug MacKenzie, director of communications for the GPCVB, calls First Fridays the perfect way to showcase “Downtown at dark,” as well as the talented artisans and vibrant art culture that exists and thrives in the area. He adds that First Fridays is just one of the “various segments that weave a pattern of hospitality and uniqueness” throughout the Downtown Phoenix area.

Beyond simply bringing people together on a Friday night to enjoy tours of local art galleries and museums, Esser believes, “The arts have been both a catalyst and a beneficiary of the growth and development of Downtown. Audiences have attracted new development and new development has attracted more audiences.”

Specifically, he notes Arizona State University’s new presence in Downtown and the development of the light rail as helping to give First Fridays events new life.

“The presence of ASU Downtown has infused new vitality, participation and programming on the part of students, staff and faculty,” he says. “Light rail has created a widely popular way to experience First Fridays without the challenges of parking Downtown.”

Despite the event’s success in attracting more and more people each year, it has not been immune to the state’s current economic troubles.

“The recent decline in consumer spending has created a significant strain on many of the businesses, artists and cultural organizations that are vital to Downtown,” Esser admits. “We have unfortunately lost a handful of businesses.”

This recognition of the harsh realities of the economic upheaval prompts Esser, who is now director of civic art for the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, to send Valley residents a message.

“Now more than ever it is important to spend locally and support those who have committed all of their energy and resources into creating a more vibrant community Downtown,” he says.

He anticipates First Fridays attendance will continue to expand over the next five years from its current monthly status of 15,000 visitors.

“I hope to see that number continue to grow to where (we) attract 100,000 visitors that support the rich fabric of Downtown neighborhoods, including Roosevelt Row, Grand Avenue, Garfield, the Warehouse District, Melrose, Coronado, the Museum District and the newly emerging CityScape and East McDowell Arts District — 10,000 visitors in 10 Downtown neighborhoods,” Esser says.

MacKenzie echoes those sentiments and notes that the GPCVB’s marketing efforts highlight all the services in the Downtown Phoenix area, as well as unique events such as First Fridays. He believes that despite the economic challenges, Downtown Phoenix is starting to become a “destination Downtown” in which people come to check out an event and then stay at one of the new or revamped hotels in the area.

“There is a glimmer of hope,” MacKenzie says. “We just need the spirit to move forward.”

Quick Facts

First Fridays

First Fridays runs all year from 6-10 p.m.

Free event shuttles run throughout the tour route, so you can get on/off wherever you choose.
The shuttles initiate at the Phoenix Art Museum, First Fridays’ headquarters.
Free parking is available at the museum, as well.

While local artists are highlighted, you can also check out pieces from national and international artists.

Arizona Business Magazine June 2010

Local First Arizona Champions Buying Locally - AZ Business Magazine June 2010

Local First Arizona Champions Buying Locally

Today, people generally recognize the importance of shopping locally and supporting our region’s independently owned and operated businesses. But that wasn’t always the case. As recently as seven years ago, the concept was nearly unheard of in Arizona. But in 2003, Kimber Lanning, of the independently owned and operated Stinkweeds music store, started Local First Arizona, then called Arizona Chain Reaction, in an effort to bring the community together and support each other.

“People weren’t really connecting,” says Lanning, who lives in and loves the Phoenix area.

That love of Phoenix compelled her to start a crusade for local, independent store owners. That crusade turned into Local First Arizona, a statewide organization aimed at helping to strengthen local communities in Arizona, bring them together and encourage them to support one another. And she did it one person at a time.

“I just started knocking on doors,” Lanning says of her start-up approach to educating local residents about the importance of celebrating the uniqueness of independently owned businesses in their very own neighborhoods versus the chain stores.

In 2006, she applied for 501(c)3 nonprofit status and changed the name from Arizona Chain Reaction to Local First Arizona to better reflect the goal and mission of the organization — to help people understand the benefits of buying locally and to build a better sense of community.

“I think neighborhoods are finally realizing how important it is (to buy locally),” she says. “It’s like it finally just dawned on us that we can create diverse and unique cities … we can control this.”

It is part of Local First’s mission to educate people on the facts about the real benefits of shopping locally. Studies show that for every $100 spent in a locally owned business, approximately $42 stays in the state. If that same $100 is spent in a chain store, just $13 of it stays right here.

In 2008, Lanning created the Small Wonders maps, pocket-sized guides — one each for Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale — that list unique shopping and dining destinations in the three defined areas. Lanning printed 75,000 copies of the Phoenix version, and downloadable versions of the maps also are available at www.localfirstaz.com. She says the buzz around the maps has been incredible.

“They’ve really taken off,” Lanning says. “Now is the best time to promote independent businesses.”

Indeed that remains one of Lanning’s biggest challenges, managing the rapid (“almost too rapid”) growth of her concept, along with securing funding. But she hasn’t let the latter stop her.

“With any new concept, it’s difficult to secure funding,” she says. “So I’m running it like an entrepreneur would, rather than relying on grants.”
Local First currently has 1,800 members, but Lanning has high hopes for the future.

“As I’ve gotten more involved, I’ve realized things we need,” she says.

She hopes to develop awareness for the adaptive reuse of existing buildings to ensure sustainability, increase business-to-business support, grow membership to 5,000, and develop a diversified staff that can offer programs, benefits and support for the state’s locally owned businesses.
Lanning, whose very own personal business, Stinkweeds, resides in the Central Corridor, is thrilled as she talks about the recent growth and development in the Downtown area.

“I am overjoyed to watch the city growing into itself,” she says. “It’s phenomenal. I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time.”

But Doug MacKenzie, director of communications at the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau, thinks it’s more than just a little luck. He credits Local First and Lanning with driving the unique farm-to-table food product and for helping Phoenix become a culinary destination in its own right — complete with amazing farmer’s markets and unique events. One such event was the recent Devoured Culinary Classic at the Phoenix Art Museum, which Local First spearheaded and co-sponsored.

MacKenzie says that due to efforts by Local First, locals and visitors to the Phoenix area have the opportunity to “really experience the authentic and native foods of the region and the Southwest. Local First is great for promoting our culinary scene.”

More than just promoting local dining establishments, Local First also seeks to bring together communities, neighborhoods and people — one door at a time.

www.localfirstaz.com

Arizona Business Magazine June 2010

Downtown Phoenix Ambassador program - AZ Business Magazine June 2010

Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors Work To Make Visitors And Residents Feel At Home

Whether you are a visitor to the Downtown area trying to find a parking spot, a new resident in search of a security escort to your car, or a local looking for a new hotspot to frequent, the Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors can help.

Perhaps you’ve noticed these boosters in bright orange — you know, the ones wearing the shirts that announce, “Ambassador, Ask Me” on the back.

According to Ambassador Program Manager Samantha Jackson, the Downtown Phoenix Ambassador program, formerly called the Copper Square Ambassadors, began in 2001 as a safety program. It has since evolved into more of a hospitality service. The Ambassadors try to make someone’s day, she says, whether that someone is a visitor to the area, an ASU student, a Downtown employee or a resident.

“We go beyond the typical concierge service,” Jackson adds. “It is the goal of every Ambassador to go above and beyond the call of duty; and you just never know how we can help, which is why our motto is ‘Questions? Ask Us!’”

The Ambassadors work the Downtown area 365 days a year, from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. They offer a bevy of services that include recommending a great new restaurant (and even calling the place to see if there is a wait) and giving directions to jumping a car battery or helping someone find their car when they can’t remember where they parked.

The program works closely with the Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau (GPCVB) to ensure it is heavily staffed during major events and conventions.

“Convention guests are some of the people who need the Ambassadors the most,” Jackson says.

The Ambassadors often take a table inside the conventions held Downtown, so they can be of added assistance.

“We try to meet any special requests the CVB may have, because we know that our service could be that added bonus that sways delegates to select Downtown Phoenix as their destination,” Jackson adds.

Doug MacKenzie, director of communications for the GPCVB, says he hasn’t seen a program to the extent of the Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors in any other city.

“It is truly one of a kind,” he says. “They are true ambassadors in every form of the word. They are on the forefront, greeting our guests from all over the place, and they are the prime example that our hospitality is as warm as our weather.”

And it’s no coincidence that the Ambassadors are friendly, in addition to being knowledgeable about everything pertaining to Downtown. Jackson says the program has been very lucky when it comes to its staff members, who all really believe in the Downtown area and love to promote it.

“We have taken the program from meet-and-greet to really having specialized jobs,” Jackson says.

She calls one staff member the First Responder Ambassador for helping the homeless in the Downtown area by collecting clothes, checking in on them when needed, and maintaining a good relationship with the police in the event they need to be called in. The Ambassador program also boasts an Arizona State University liaison who promotes the Downtown area to the students, a resident liaison who pens a weekly “what’s happening” column and a streetscape supervisor.

All this adds up to a program that really wants to help Downtown Phoenix feel like a community, according to Jackson. In that vein, the program has hosted several free events, including Festive Fridays in which Ambassadors gave out food samples and gift certificates for various Downtown restaurants; Third Fridays Insiders Tour, which included tours of local art galleries, retail boutiques and restaurants and was led by Sloane Burwell, president of Artlink; a Mardi Crawl pub crawl; and a Zombie Walk around Halloween in which participants dressed like zombies and dragged through the streets of Downtown.

Beyond fun and games, Jackson is proud of the help the Ambassadors offer the people both living in and visiting the Downtown Phoenix area. One particular Ambassador became a hero to a young mom with two children. As she was getting off the light rail with her younger child in the stroller, the train took off with her four-year-old still inside. The Ambassador chased the train to its next stop and returned the child to a very relieved mother. It was all in a day’s work for a Downtown Phoenix Ambassador.

So the next time you see an orange-shirted character strolling the streets of Downtown Phoenix — ask them anything — more than likely they’ll know the answer.

www.downtownphoenix.com

Quick Facts
Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors

  • In 2007, the Ambassadors tracked 87,000 assists; in 2009 that number jumped to 94,043.
  • If an Ambassador can’t be found on the streets, there are many ways to get in touch with one via the hotline (602) 495-1500, text (“ASK” to 25866) or e-mail at ambassadors@downtownphx.org.
  • The Ambassador Information Center, located at 101 N. 1st Ave, Ste. 190, is open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and offers all things Downtown, including restaurant menus, brochures, coupons, entertainment guides, information on the light rail, and more.

Arizona Business Magazine June 2010