Clarendon Alliance FY2016 Plan
History & Overview:
The Clarendon Alliance was Incorporated in 1984 and received its IRS 501(c)(6) designation in 1986. Since 1984, it has worked to “for the purpose of fostering the development, redevelopment, and revitalization of the Clarendon area of Arlington…(as defined in the Clarendon Sector Plan…) through the pursuit of the following principal goals:
- Encouraging the physical development and redevelopment of the Clarendon are within the general guidelines of the Sector Plan;
- Fostering the development of economically sound businesses — including, especially, a strong retail business community…;
- Coordinating public and private expenditures for development and redevelopment in the Clarendon area as to foster…a cohesive, magnetic business and residential location alive with offices, retail shops, residences and parks that contribute to a pleasing and economically stable environment.”
In large measure, the goals laid out in our original Articles of Incorporation have been achieved. As an organization, with our initial mission largely accomplished, the CA Board has been working to determine our organizations proper role in sustaining this success.
Last year, with Arlington County assistance, the Clarendon Alliance conducted a Strategic Planning Process organized by Richard Brewster to refine our Mission and Goals in light of the clear changes in Clarendon’s economy and demographics since our inception.
Through that process, the CA Board has agreed that our mission is To maintain and develop the distinctive character of Clarendon by presenting and promoting events that build Clarendon’s brand, and by advising on issues that affect Clarendon. Following Mr. Brewster’s final report in July, we expect that the CA board may continue to work to revise, clarify and improve its mission statement.
Based on conversations with our County Board Liaison, John Vihstadt, with AED officials, and with our business operators, we believe this new mission statement is consistent with the wishes of our County funders. Those conversations also suggest that a new, broader definition of the CA “borders” (beyond the confines of the Clarendon Sector Plan) is in order. An exploration of possible changes to our corporate structure (such as the establishment of an affiliated 501(c)(3) organization) and an exploration of alternative funding mechanisms (including the potential establishment of a BID District) have been authorized by the Board, and initial reports are due from staff in July 2015.
The CA has consistently pursued a number of initiatives that are consistent with our new mission statement:
- We will continue to organize our distinctive and time-tested Clarendon events like Clarendon Day and our Mardi Gras Parade—which are broadly supported in our community;
- We have and will develop new events and partnerships that strengthen the Clarendon character and ‘brand’…
- The Arlington Arts Festival, which will enter its 4th year in FY 16;
- The Courthouse Arts & Craft Beer Festival—which will evolve over time;
- Our recent Bark in the Park event, which is intended to lead to the creation of a Friends of James Hunter Park organization independent of the CA;
- Our Little Saigon event, which strengthens our partnership with Arlington Cultural Affairs and may yield an expanded historic marker program to introduce new residents to Clarendon’s history and evolution.
- Over time, we hope that these types of initiatives evolve into new Clarendon traditions—and we will continue to seek out similar opportunities in FY16;
- We assist AED and advise the County Board and other County agencies on a range of issues– (e.g. proposed parking changes, Courthouse food truck management, zoning changes to allow temporary uses, etc.);
- We provide information and advice to businesses seeking to learn more about our district;
- We continue to work so that the Clarendon Alliance has the leadership, staff, funding, and mandate to properly market, promote, and sustain our neighborhood as an economic engine in Arlington.
Challenges and Opportunities
While the CA relies upon County grant funding, we generate most of our funding through our events, and this year we generated more than $165K from event revenues, including $78K from “Day-of-Event Income”. That is an exceptional total for the CA, and we are not budgeting to repeat it. For the CA, day-of-event income is very weather-dependent. Because of our reliance on event income, our Board recognizes that our financial position, every year, is precarious. We plan to take steps in FY 16 to strengthen our financial position.
The CA Board has directed staff to explore an official expansion of the CA district to include the area of the Courthouse Sector Plan, and also portions of Virginia Square to reach past the Virginia Square Metro Station to Nelson or Oakland Street as a western boundary. Such an expansion would actually codify our current practice—we have done events and have had board members from the Courthouse district for years, and event partners from Virginia Square. We would like to strengthen our ties with GMU, and build stronger alliances with the businesses and property owners in Virginia Square. It makes sense to us, to our AED partners and to our County Board Liaison, that we finally propose official the revisions to our boundaries to codify our current situation. We believe such action should be via a County Board resolution, presented by AED, and implanted through changes to our Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws.
Such an expansion is consistent with the observations of Chris Leinberger, who spoke at AED’s “Beyond Smart Growth” conference in February 2012 at Founders Hall at GMU. While Lienberger clearly applauded Arlington’s general direction in his remarks, he only graded Arlington a “C” on BIDs—simply because he recognized that the CA and CPRO were under-funded as Partnership organizations. Leinberger recognized that BID’s have the resources to maintain and strengthen their districts—and Partnership organizations do not. The County addressed CPRO’s funding challenge in the FY16 budget. We recognize that our situation is different from CPRO’s, and in this work plan we are outlining the steps we are taking to acknowledge and respond to our funding challenge.
With an expanded district, and with a commitment to represent the entire community’s point of view to our membership to the County Board and to County staff, we may be able to increase our membership income in FY16. While increasing our Membership is important in the short run, it is wise to recognize the fragility of membership income as a funding model. In recent years, both CPRO and the CA have seen membership revenue decline. Membership management is staff-intensive in terms of billing and record-keeping. As a matter of business culture, “memberships” are no longer socially obligatory (as they were in the 80’s when CPRO and the CA were founded). They are now transactional: Businesses ask, “Do we get more ‘value’ from our membership expense than we pay? The CA must make that value proposition to our existing and potential members, every year. (As an aside, many people fail to realize that national chains often have policies that prohibit local units from joining membership organizations like the CA as a matter of policy).
Since event income and membership revenues are both volatile sources of income, the CA Board has also tasked staff to explore the feasibility of the establishment of a Business Improvement District. Over the years, land ownership patterns have changed in Clarendon, Courthouse, and Virginia Square, and, as a result, a BID formation might be possible. The CA staff’s initial evaluation to the CA board about the feasibility of a BID formation is due in the first quarter of the new Fiscal year. Establishing a Clarendon BID may very well give us additional tools to enhance our district’s marketing programs and provide other needed service and programs within our district. A Clarendon-Courthouse-Virginia Square BID might start at a much smaller funding level than our neighboring BID’s. But stable and predictable funding for a small staff and a small office would enable the CA to plan and execute into the future.
FY 15 Year-to-Date Accomplishments
Maintaining Clarendon’s Historic and Distinctive Special Events and activities
- Clarendon Day has been the CA’s signature event for close to 20 years, and we have grown the event to include 5 music stages, with 40 local bands (several of whom tour as national acts). In 2014, we passed all records on attendance—our estimate is 30,000—and came close to selling out ALL of the spaces we have available. We signed our first-ever national sponsors—Founders Brewery and Lagunitas—and we now have more than 5000 people following Clarendon Day on Twitter. Despite the changes, we maintain the event as a Clarendon-centric event, with places for kids to play, and affordable prices for local restaurants, nonprofits, and general exhibitors.
- Clarendon-Courthouse Mardi Gras Parade is a beloved Clarendon institution, because it was started by a bunch of bar owners who “just did it”—and the Parade caught on. It may be “Exhibit 1” in the “Keep Clarendon Weird” meme which developed some years back. Tax Blues Night at the Post Office on April 15 is another, but just as electronic tax filing made Tax Blues Night an anachronism, climate change makes the Mardi Gras Parade harder and harder to sustain. We were snowed-out twice in 2014; in 2015 we were snowed out on Fat Tuesday, and ACPD no longer allows a St. Patrick’s Day make-up date any more. Four years ago, we had around 20 entries—by now, we have around 50—but the rates we charge to participate do not cover our costs—and we keep our fees low to generate entries.
- The Parade is also threatened by the extension of parking rate enforcement hours. If parking rates are extended to 8pm, and if we have to pay for that parking according to the current rules, that will be an additional multi-thousand dollar expense for an event which we dearly want to keep, but one where participant revenue comes nowhere close to covering expenses. We are holding the Parade on our schedule for Fat Tuesday, but we recognize that this event is “threatened” unless we can find sponsors.
- Urban Village Market continues to be a successful endeavor for the Clarendon Alliance, and in FY2016, we need to study if it can be expanded under the new Zoning laws. The vendors are interested in a Friday evening Market—similar to what we had proposed for the Wells Fargo site, which was to be called Spark Market—but located on the Vornado Plaza. There are both permitting questions—whether such a market might be allowed under the revised Zoning regulations—and operational questions: Will the operators at the market be of a quality we want to promote in our neighborhood? In FY16, we will resolve these questions and potentially expand the market.
- Clarendon Farmers’ Market has been in operation at the Clarendon Metro for years. Unfortunately, the Farmers’ Market situation has changed in our region. More and more markets have opened; Whole Foods and (especially) Trader Joe’s have impacted market demand. Plus, our residential demographic has changed. Clarendon now has a lot of people in our neighborhood who live in smaller units and prefer dining out or perhaps pre-packaged meals—with the addition of fresh fruit or vegetables from our market. But our traffic counts and sales continue to decline, and even though we now allow vendors to exhibit for free, we are seeing fewer and fewer committed participants.
- We are in discussions to move the Farmers’ Market to the horseshoe at Market Common. A poll of past participants suggests that such a move might increase the number of exhibitors, and the new operator of the Arlington Farmers Market, Community Foodworks, has expressed interest in becoming the Market Operator. Community Foodworks has the capacity to bring the critical mass of farmers to Market Common to make the location viable. However, a Use Permit would be required of Market Common to establish (or even test) the location, and Market Common’s interest in pursuing a Use Permit is presently unclear. We will continue to work to sustain and grow the Clarendon Farmers Market in FY 16.
Developing and Evaluating New Events and Partnerships
- The Arlington Art Festival is by far the most successful example of an event partnership we have built. Howard Alan Events organizes high-end art festivals all over the country and our three year partnership shows no signs of slowing down. Our festival is very successful, according to his metrics—and because we get paid to be his local partner—it’s a successful event from our perspective as well. The community gets a great art event, and our fees to HAE exceed our expenses.
- Even as the CA has been following the Envision Courthouse Square planning process, we long-ago recognized that the parking lot behind the County Building was potential event space. In FY 15 we engaged in a process to open that space for special event use. Because the process took longer than anticipated, what was initially planned as a Spring Event became (in its first iteration) the Courthouse Arts & Craft Beer festival, which was held over the Columbus Day weekend in 2014, with an array of artists, local craft beer brewers, musicians on two stages, a poetry corner, and food trucks for sustenance.
- This was the first ticketed event the CA ever organized, and our ticket technology worked—we sold $16K in tickets for a first-time-ever event. Given the weather, our total income of $49K was respectable for a first-time event in a brand-new venue. Given the lessons learned in FY 15, we believe we can produce a spring event at that location in 2016 which generates revenue for the CA and our event partners. More important, we want to show that large events in Courthouse are viable, to encourage that appropriate event infrastructure (power, lighting, load-in routes, etc.) is built-in to the Envision Courthouse Square Plan.
- We want to explore how the recent temporary-use changes in the Arlington County Zoning ordinance might enable us to build/strengthen our current partnership with Vornado. Our Urban Village Market currently utilizes and activates Vornado space; our vendors are interested in developing a Friday evening Night Market. We are aware that several of our UVM vendors might not be appropriate for a Friday Night Market—but we have a long list of highly qualified artists from our discontinued effort to establish the Arts Market at Wells Fargo Bank, and from Clarendon Day.
- We want to continue to explore the feasibility of a Holiday Market either in Clarendon Central Park, or in Courthouse.
- The Little Saigon Event in Clarendon Central Park was part of a Virginia Tech M.A. in Planning project. Our participation yielded a great link to a forgotten portion of Clarendon’s history, and suggests a model for additional high-quality research, on our neighborhood history. We hope to strengthen our outreach out with academic institutions to create win-win opportunities for the CA, and our academic partners.
- Arlington County Parks seeks to create “Friends” organization for County Dog Parks, to provide feedback to the County, and build “ownership” among the communities that utilize the Park. This year we partnered with the County, Clarendon Animal Care, and other pet providers to create a kick-off event, called Bark in the Park to begin the creation of a Friends organization. The CA won’t “own” or “run” Clarendon Dogs—but if we can help build a partnership with dog owners, park users, and Arlington County Parks, it’s to the community’s advantage. We believe that such a partnership is consistent with our mission.
- We continue to work with Amir Mostava of South Block Smoothie on an idea he has, to do a health-related event in Clarendon Central Park that might occur in the fall of 2015, via a partnership he has developed with Reebok. Clarendon obviously has a lot of fitness and health-related businesses, and Amir and his sponsor is working to pull an event together. Our advice helps them organize their event, in Clarendon Central Park. We may not generate revenue from this event, but the event itself adds value to our neighborhood, which is why we became involved.
- We have helped organize Business Mixer events at local venues, including events at Burke and Herbert Bank and John Marshall Bank. This is a work-in-progress, in that we don’t yet have the database to target key contacts in a proper way to invite them to special events. Building a system to regularly host Business Mixers is an FY16 goal.
Assistance to AED and other County Boards and agencies
We believe that AED’s restructuring, which puts a central point of contact for the BID’s and Partnerships, is an important improvement in AED’s structure.
- We are restructuring our workplan this year, based on models from other BIDs and Partnerships, which were shared by the AED Coordinator.
- We have participated in BID and Partnership working groups to evaluate zoning regulations which allow and encourage BIDs and Partnerships greater flexibility for “temporary uses” in public and private space as “place-making” initiatives.
- We now have a mechanism to share useful and non-noncontroversial information, which County staff might be interested to hear. The central point of contact model provides both BID and Partnership staff an outlet to share information which enables the County, BID’s, and Partnership Organizations to provide “good customer service”.
- This model also creates a positive feedback loop, for follow-up “customer service” by the CA.
- The new AED mechanism also allows the CA to participate more fully in County-wide strategic planning. We have been invited to sit on a County Brain-Trust panel of business leaders; to sit at a focus group on Arts in Arlington; and to participate in the Public Arts component of the Envision Courthouse planning process.
Information and Advice to Businesses
- The CA was intended to be an information clearinghouse. Our methods have changed. We no longer use rack cards, as was envisioned in 1984.
- We DO run a WordPress Multi-site website: our most visited sites include:
- These sites, and others, are one of our main ways we reach our market.
- Our #Clarendonday Twitter account now has more than 5000 followers, and we are budgeting to ensure that we have the technical assistance to continue to grow our social media presence and capabilities.
- In FY15, we purchased a customized FileMaker database template based on the Four Point Program developed by the National Main Street Center. The database will allow us to keep track of our organization, including members, committee participation, Events & Promotion participation, Property ownership and management, and Business ownership and participation. These are all things that downtown organizations need to follow; our new database will have the capability to record all this information, and generate reports in a huge variety of formats. It will be a powerful tool to better enable us to manage our membership and understand our changing district.
- Our FY16 goal is to populate the database with business and property owner information, and to begin to use that information for membership development, sponsor recruitment, business mixer invitations, etc.
The CA’s plan for FY16 is to retain our historic and more recent distinctive special events, to monitor, research, and comment upon government and private sector initiatives which may impact Clarendon—broadly speaking—and to work strategically with our government partners and others to expand upon the FY15 initiatives described above.
In FY2016 we hope to achieve the following:
- To cement an annual year-round special event calendar that provides great community events in Clarendon and Courthouse for years to come, as described above.
- January – Clarendon Alliance Annual Meeting
- February or March – The Clarendon-Courthouse Mardi Gras Parade
- Open Urban Village Market
- Open Clarendon Farmers Market
- April—The Arlington Festival of the Arts
- April—The Clarendon Gala—a ticketed fundraising event to celebrate our supporters and to raise money for the Clarendon Alliance
- May-June—The Courthouse Festival for Causes [working title]—a music festival to raise money for nonprofit causes that are championed by the performers themselves.
- June—Friends of Hunter Dog Park event—to maintain & generate interest in the Friends of Hunter Dog Park
- September—Clarendon Day Festival
- October—Halloween Dog Park event reaching from Central Park to Hunter Park
- November—Small Business Saturday participation and promotion
- December—Central Park Lighting
- December—Central Park Holiday Market [TBD]
- To work to create a true business network In FY16 we will populate the business database we developed in FY 15, and utilize our database in a variety of ways:
- To invite businesses to business mixer events;
- To inform our members or potential members on issues that may impact their businesses;
- To reach out to focused business groups to poll them on issues affecting our district;
- To create affinity groups to focus on particular issues in which our businesses, property owners or residential members express a particular interest.
We also have organizational goals for FY16:
- To identify and re-establish a physical Clarendon Alliance office in our district.
- To revise our internal operating documents so we provide greater flexibility for our board members and focus our organization to become more open to new members and new ideas—with the possible intent of expanding our boundaries and changing our IRS status from 501(c)(6) to 501(c)(3), and/or to create a mixed (c)(6)/(c)(3) organization with a structure TBD:
- Bylaw changes to allow for CA staff to establish committees and working groups to focus on specific questions or issues, with approval of the CA Board, under a process TBD;
- Amendment to our Articles of Incorporation to expand our boundaries, with the concurrence of AED, and, by resolution, the Arlington County Board.
- Ongoing research into a BID formation.
Over the past several years, the CA has made significant strides. We’ve doubled or tripled attendance at our historic events, we’ve built new, successful events, we’ve updated our technology, we’ve revised our mission, our revenue for FY15 far exceeded budget. We have an ambitious calendar to deliver, and we are working to develop plans to re-model our organization to so we have resources to respond to the current and future challenges our district will face.