Scottsdale City Council looks to bolster creation of ‘event-based economy’

Scottsdale City Council appears poised to create a new downtown tourism experience for residents and visitors. (File photo)

Scottsdale City Council appears poised to create a new downtown tourism experience for residents and visitors. (File photo)

The city of Scottsdale is proceeding with its strategic tourism plan with work now focused on the downtown portion of the city where officials say they intend to create a “living room for the community” they are calling “Arizona Central.”

Enshrined in 2013 through Resolution No. 9404, Scottsdale City Council’s Tourism Development & Marketing Strategic Plan aims to enhance the tourism draw and ensure the municipality’s future competitive position, officials contend.

The local governing body received an update on the years-long endeavor Tuesday, Oct. 27 at City Hall where city staff, a tourism advisory taskforce member and both a paid consultant and architect outlined the next steps on creating an event-based economy made possible through the use of public space and connectivity of the downtown area.

The concept presented includes the creation of an auditorium for public events and potentially a place of commerce for residents to gather and tourists to visit. The Scottsdale City Council has given the idea its tentative approval.

Since May 2013 the Scottsdale Tourism Advisory Task Force — a group of nine tourism and business development professionals — has been charged with completing the 130 objectives of the tourism strategic plan outlined in the city ordinance.

A Tourism Development Commission also provides recommendations to Scottsdale City Council on whether or not certain events should receive up to $75,000 of bed-tax dollars toward a “one-time use for tourism capital projects, event development and administration.” The Phoenix-based Artigue Agency is paid for consultation services on the economic merits of certain events seeking bed-tax allocations, records show.

The 2014 Bentley Scottsdale Polo Championships, which the Scottsdale Independent is a media sponsor, and the upcoming Food & Wine Experience are recent examples bed-tax allocations in the name of tourism development.

The usage of bed-tax remits is made possible by a 2012 action by Scottsdale City Council through Ordinance No. 4019. Since fiscal year 2013-14 the city of Scottsdale has provided $2.4 million in bed tax remits for 39 events, according to a financial breakdown provided by Steve Geiogamah, the city’s tourism development manager.

But while those events remain mainstays of what Scottsdale tourism is to the average traveler, members of the tourism industry are presenting data arguing future tourism trends may be moving away from the mega-event model.

An event-based economy

John Holdsworth, a member of the tourism advisory board, along with Valeri LeBlanc, principal consultant of PLACES, led the hours-long discussion of what the future of local tourism in Scottsdale might look like.

“(Arizona) Central is certainly not meant to be in any shape or form just be an event center,” Mr. Holdsworth told Scottsdale City Council. “It is meant to be an activation hub for the center of downtown. It really is a center — it is part of the bigger picture.”

Ms. LeBlanc says that bigger picture entails creating an ecosystem encouraging the hosting of events in a municipal downtown sector.

“It’s not about wholesale change, it is about layering on value,” she said. “Considerations ought to be made for everyone because the downtown area of a community belongs to everyone.”

Ms. LeBlanc says the promotion, creation and retention of downtown events is critical.

“I don’t think there is any question here there is a consumer interest in the market,” she said. “Advertising is flowing into place-based advertising. We want to create an event-based economy. I am an advocate for a robust ecosystem of events and a robust ecosystem of events downtown in addition to what you are doing at Westworld.”

Scottsdale Vice Mayor David Smith called into question data provided by the tourism advisory board.

“Everyone in the room likes events but not everyone in the room agrees on what an event is,” he said following the overview presentation. “Let’s be careful what conclusions we draw from statistics. I think this is statistically dangerous.”

Mr. Geiogamah echoed that concern and pointed out every precaution is taken to understand gleaned data from syndicated tourism reports.

“In fact we felt some data was a little bit older than we would have hoped for,” he told Vice Mayor Smith. “This is a process for us to enhance our report function here.”

Vice Mayor Smith says some of the data presented doesn’t appear to have solid mathematical footing.

“I know we have ‘X’ number of hotel rooms in this metro area. You can fill them up to the brim and it won’t be 4.3 million people,” he said of visitor projections presented.

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane says the research conclusion suggests the event model of tourism is changing.

“Are we really saying that all of these other events don’t mean anything?” he asked of the presentation. “For years we have tried to make sure we have an activation point downtown. Our real mission is to provide an environment conducive for tourism and attraction.”

Mr. Holdsworth says that he believes the wants and desires of the average traveler are changing.

“Yes, that is what we are saying,” he told Mayor Lane. “What we are trying to create is Scottsdale’s living room. It’s having a broader opportunity for more things to do. They (tourists) want to be around local people.”

This overview photo was prvented as the ideal location for "Arizona Central," which tourism experts say will be setting for "Scottsdale's living room." (Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitor's Bureau)

This overview photo was presented Oct. 27 as the ideal location for “Arizona Central,” which tourism experts say will be setting for “Scottsdale’s living room.” (Photo courtesy of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitor’s Bureau)

Arizona Central

Diane Jacobs, principal of Holly Street Studio, was tapped by the city of Scottsdale to identify areas suitable for the Arizona Central project, which at this point equates to a few sketches and ideas entailing some kind of pavilion, auditorium and commerce hub.

Two sites have been identified: The Scottsdale Canal site along 5th Avenue and the Rose Garden location where a hotel may or may not be planned, city officials say.

“We were asked to look at one site,” Ms. Jacobs said of the canal site. “We can fit an auditorium wherever it needs to fit. It is possible to achieve all of these goals on the back of one holistic solution.”

That holistic solution is the Scottsdale canal site along 5th Avenue, according to the work session discussion.

“I don’t really know how to define an event. To me it is about interaction,” She said. “AZ Stortelling, I know Megan Finnerty at The Republic needs a place for 300 people to come and listen to stories. What would be critical here is to define rules for these open spaces.”

Scottsdale City Council appears ready for the next steps of the tourism panels plans.

“Let’s not first start with cost; let’s think big,” Scottsdale Councilwoman Linda Milhaven said. “Let’s put more detail on what this is going to be. Don’t ask us, you are the experts, you tell us. This is something for the community to aspire.”

Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips says council ought to proceed with caution. The next steps should be focused on tourism development.

“There is a market here with people with disposable income,” he said. “We need to focus on people with disposable income. I am tired of hearing about millennials. We need a larger voice from the local residents and businesses. Let’s proceed with caution here.”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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