In reviewing the success of a fall event series, San Mateo city officials voiced support for refining the city’s process for imagining and approving events in an effort to ensure they reflect the community’s diverse set of interests.

Councilmembers largely commended staff and other community stakeholders for pulling off an engaging fall event series taking place on three Thursday evenings in September and aimed at celebrating the city’s 125th anniversary. Featuring dance instruction, live music, community booths, trivia and a children’s activity zone, the September Nights on B series held Sept. 5, Sept. 12 and Sept. 19 drew some 1,000 people each of the three nights, explained Jennifer Chen, the city’s economic development manager.

Mayor Diane Papan was joined by Councilman Eric Rodriguez and Councilman Rick Bonilla in noting the event series held on B Street between Second Avenue and Third Avenue exceeded her expectations. With packed dance lessons and activities, the events that cost the city some $95,000 to host in its first year fostered a sense of community, said Papan, who was also joined by her fellow councilmembers in scoping ways the city could have increased sponsorships for the event and engaged more businesses.

Councilman Joe Goethals was absent from the Monday study session and there is currently a vacancy on the council since Deputy Mayor Maureen Freschet left the council in early November after completing her second four-year term. The council is slated to vote on an appointment to the seat at a Nov. 12 special meeting.

“I think we were all kind of buoyed both with respect to people who work in the city as well as our community at large,” said Papan, according to a video of the meeting. “We weren’t half-baked about it, so I think that was important to giving it a send-off to future consideration.”

Chen said a beer and wine booth managed by the San Mateo Area Chamber of Commerce sold out each night, restaurants on the block where the events were held were bustling with activity and those who attended were encouraged to pick up take-out from other downtown restaurants. Chen said the pilot event series was met with positive feedback from both business owners and those who attended the events, 100 of whom were surveyed by city staff.

The survey indicated most people learned about the event through word of mouth, social media or fliers posted downtown, and 85% of respondents either lived or worked in San Mateo. Live music was the biggest draw for those who came, and 90% of respondents purchased food and drinks during the event, said Chen.

Though the event series cost some $120,000 total for the three nights, Chen said the city was able to obtain $26,750 in sponsorships with Downtown San Mateo Association as the event’s major sponsor. She said 80% of the event expenses were dedicated to administration, venue creation and entertainment. Because the event series required street closures, equipment rental and labor, it is more expensive than the city’s summer music series, explained Chen, who added staff believe they can trim the costs of the September Nights on B series by some $10,000 to $15,000 should officials choose to offer it in future after having learned lessons from its pilot run.

Councilmembers wondered whether staff could increase sponsorships for the event in future years, and though Chen and Assistant City Manager Kathy Kleinbaum felt they could increase the number of sponsorships for the event, they would likely not reach cost recovery for it. They also discussed ways to cut the series’ costs in the future by focusing on spreading word about the event through word of mouth and forgoing the bus or radio advertisements that were used this year.

They also weighed whether the event series could be held on different downtown streets each night so more restaurants can participate. Chen acknowledged it could be challenging to tailor the events to each street but said staff could work with restaurants not located on the block where the events were held to see if they could deliver special dishes.

Rodriguez said he was impressed with how many people attended and the participation in the events by community groups like the chamber, and wondered if officials could consider offering at least one of the events during a weekend night to see if even more people could attend. He said some he invited to join him at the event struggled to make it on a weeknight because of commutes, homework or other commitments and wondered if turnout would be better on a Friday or Saturday.

“We had a great time,” he said. “It was perfect, but we might be able to make it even better if it was a Friday night, it would just be more of a party … because there wouldn’t be work or school the next day.”

City officials also voiced support for forming a task force to review the slate of events offered in the city each year, the city’s process for approving them and how to get more community members involved with events, among other items. Kleinbaum said a special events team made up of staff from different departments is working on streamlining the process for events involving street closures, such as developing pre-approved traffic plans, offering a conditional approval to give event coordinators more time to market them and updating its event application and guide to make it more clear.

Councilmembers were supportive of encouraging more residents to become involved in shaping a vision for city events, and Rodriguez added that he hoped a task force including community organizations and residents could help make the city’s processes more transparent, allow for review of unsuccessful events and ensure event planning is inclusive of San Mateo’s diverse communities.

“Times are changing and the way we’re thinking about things are changing,” he said. “We need to make sure our events are kind of keeping up with it.”

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