Uneasy peace
Every-other-Saturday compromise being tried on craft fair dates in Bancroft Park

       On the surface, the Arts and Crafts Show in Bancroft Park every other Saturday is the essence of summer mellowness. Amiable entrepreneurs in 20 to 30 canvas booths display a variety of wares beneath graceful shade trees.
        Adding to the ambiance is the neighboring Farmers Market on 24th Street, where vendors at a similar number of booths offer fresh fruits and vegetables and other food products.
       You wouldn't know that beneath the surface, there's a struggle going on.
       The “every other Saturday” is kind of a tip-off. It's the result of a craft-fair compromise worked out by Colo-rado Springs Parks.
       Why was a compromise necessary? The answer is not a simple one because the disagreement involves multiple groups and differing philosophies. In fact, one of them - the JEI Promotions Company (a partial acronym for owner Jackson Ivey) - questions whether a compromise was necessary at all.
       Ivey can at least say he followed City Parks rules. Those rules are that a park can be rented from the city on a first-come, first- served basis. And that is what a JEI representative did last Nov. 1. It was the first day that the city had opened up park rentals for 2004. The JEI rep arrived at City Parks headquarters at 3 a.m. and proceeded to block out 16 Saturdays through the main part of summer.
       This was the second year in a row JEI had taken this kind of action. The cost to rent the park for a day is $200 (plus about $120 insurance). The company is a small Colorado Springs business that in turn sub-leases booth space - about 30 booths on a recent Saturday - to different vendors for $40 each. Although this may seem like a nice profit, Ivey said that after factoring in labor and administrative costs, the earnings are really just “chump change.” The real goal, he said, is to “provide an outlet for local artists to have a place to sell their wares. It's a shame we have to fight like this.”
        The main “fight” is coming from the Old Colorado City Associates (OCCA), the historic shopping district's merchant group. OCCA's worry is that the crafters are hurting sales for the merchants. “We don't have anything against crafters, but the city has to be a little more sensitive to retail stores when the park is so close and they're selling some of the same products,” said Nancy Stovall, OCCA president.
       Following through on that belief, OCCA complained to City Parks over the winter about the 16 Saturdays.
        Mike McCauley, whose job title with Parks is principal analyst, worked out the compromise after meeting with both groups. He termed his decision a “kind of split-the-baby thing” following “some volatile meetings.”
        Lacking any specific city policies on how to handle such disputes, he came up with the rationale that while the city believes it should make the resource available, “it isn't Parks' primary mission to provide commercial space.” McCauley also criticized the merchants for a prior effort to rent the park on key weekend days for no apparent reason other than to keep the crafters out.
       The compromise left JE1 with 10 dates (those to come are July 17, Aug. 7 and 21, Sept. 4 and 18 and Oct. 2).
        McCauley thinks the compromise is working. “I'm not receiving the complaints I was before, and I have to compliment people for that,” he said.
       That's not to say it's an extremely popular decision. “I don't think it's right for Parks to dictate how many times we can use the park,” Ivey said. He added the point that out of the 365 days in 2004, JE1 only reserved 16 at Bancroft, which he doesn't think is extreme for a “public park, paid for by taxpayers.”
       On the other hand, Stovall said merchants “don't feel it's proper for an individual to come in and run a business out of a public park.”
       Ivey also raised the point that with City Parks claiming it's short on funds, the city department ought to be eager to take in any cash it can. To that, McCauley said the rent for Bancroft Park is minimal in terms of budget needs.
        A third entity is involved, although in a less active way at this time. This is the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS), which actually initiated the idea of summer craft fairs in Bancroft Park in the year 2000.
        According to OCCHS treasurer Dave Hughes, the non-profit organization in its best year (2001) netted $4,000 from such fairs - no small amount for an entity whose total revenues last year were about $25,000 in all. But even though Hughes said OCCHS was careful to only let in crafters making hand-made goods, the merchants were still unhappy about the regular events in the park, and eventually they worked out a deal in which OCCA gave OCCHS $3,600 and other amenities (including a free booth at the 2002 Territory Days) in exchange for not holding any fairs that summer.
        But, as Hughes further noted, the deal did not prevent anyone else from reserving the park in the summer, and sure enough, JEI stepped in to do just that on numerous dates in 2002, thus beginning its park-rental involvement.
        The merchants enjoy having the Farmers Market, which has been selling fresh produce on 24th Street next to Bancroft Park on summer Saturdays for the past 17 years. The belief is that the market gives Old Town a certain flair but not product competition.
       Then there's the relationship between the market and the crafters. Frank Schmidt, who runs the market, did not confirm Ivey's contention (as stated in his interview with the Westside Pioneer) that the market does better when the crafters are there.“I'm not sure if the crafters help us or hurt us,” he said.
       Schmidt was referring particularly to the parking situation: The nearby fair may attract people, but he thinks it also reduces the number of close-in, on-street parking spaces. The nearest off-street parking is about a block away, in free lots that are funded by Old Colorado City shopping district property owners.
       The vendors themselves are pleased to have the opportunity to sell their wares so close to an established shopping area. Ernie Gallegos, owner of Elk Country Leather and a recent returnee from two tours in Iraq, mentioned an occasion this summer when a shopper who had just bought a belt in an Old Colorado City store saw that Gallegos was selling an identical one (he'd made it from a kit) for a lower price. So the person returned the belt to the store to get the better deal from Elk Country, Gallegos said.
       While Gallegos reported earning a profit every Saturday he's been there, Marilyn Domingo, who recently started designing jewelry, is happy at this point just to let people see what she's made. “I pass out a lot of cards,” she said from her booth facing onto Colorado Avenue. “Maybe something will happen someday. But it's fun.”
        Yet a different view was presented by Brent Hunt, a self-described professional vendor who expressed surprise at the high percentage of independent, non-professional arts/crafts people at Bancroft craft fairs and in Colorado in general. For example, in Wisconsin, where he's from, there are so many professional vendors that he had to put his name on a 20-year waiting list to sell at its state fair. In Colorado, he said with amazement, he'll be able to sell at the state fair in this, his first year here.
        What will happen next with Bancroft Park? McCauley said he plans to have “some kind of debriefing meeting in the fall. Anytime you do a compromise, it's kind of a moving target. You have to sit with the entities to see what worked and what didn't.” He said he likes having that sort of flexibility: “It's better than having things enforced by some government process.”
        Hughes, who is also the person who in the 1970s and 1980s organized the economic redevelopment that led to the Old Colorado Historic Shopping District, said he thinks the conflict reflects narrow thinking by the merchants and poor policy- making by the city.
       One thing he thinks the merchants ought to do is to insist that the city come up with clearly defined policies instead of invented compromises such as this year's. He used the word “stupid” to describe the city's rule of first-come, first-served without consideration of product quality.
       But Hughes also stressed that the merchants should think twice before opposing a group that attracts people to the area. “From the very beginning of my involvement here, the name of the game was to make the pie bigger and not fight over the pieces,” he said.

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