Writer / Janelle Morrison
You don’t have to look hard to find something unique and entertaining to do that is local and affordable. With a full calendar of events and festivals, free parking and myriad shops, galleries and restaurants to patronize, the Arts & Design District in downtown Carmel, Indiana, is the destination for food and fun.
The City of Carmel, the City Council, local businesses and residents work collaboratively to ensure that guests of the city, specifically of the Arts and Design District, have an enjoyable experience with each and every visit. Simply put, this is the place to be. In that spirit, to increase the exposure and tourism arm of the district, the businesses and restaurants know they have to give people a reason to come and a reason to return. The annual festivals bring in several of the locals in addition to guests from the surrounding counties and all over the state.
Rosemary Waters, president of the Carmel International Arts Festival, has been on the festival’s committee for seventeen years, serving as president for nine of those years. She has seen many positive changes in the way of support from local businesses, specifically regarding her festival that draws in more than 30,000 people over the last weekend of September.
“The Carmel International Arts Festival (CIAF) was originally held at Providence, off of Old Meridian,” Rosemary explained. The CIAF moved to the “Arts & Design District approximately six years ago and has seen tremendous increases in participation and attendance. “I believe that the festival’s first couple of years in the A&DD wasn’t as popular with the businesses but the skeptics have become our biggest cheerleaders and advocates. They are taking advantage of the marketing opportunities and the scores of people the festival brings to our streets. The CIAF has been a very positive event that benefits everyone who wants to participate and engage during that weekend.”
The City of Carmel, the City Council and the city’s departments, which include public safety, have been notably supportive of the festivals and events.
“The more positive energy we put into the city, the better it will become,” Rosemary said. “The word has gotten out that we are a “Class A” juried festival and that we have talented artists and international entertainment that exposes festivalgoers to a truly international experience. We have the ideal infrastructure, and amenities to make it a pleasurable experience for everyone.”
Important parts of the tourism arm are the initiatives and promotional outreach devised and deployed by the folks with the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Brenda Myers, Executive Director, weighed in on why she thinks the festivals are essential to increasing the city’s tourism efforts. “The festivals create a sense that new and interesting things are going on in downtown Carmel,” she said. “One of the reasons we financially support the local festivals is because we understand it is sending a positive message about our community. The festivals provide interesting content to talk about in our marketing materials for the county. The festivals are augmenters to the usual traffic and while the people might have come in regardless, they may pick a festival weekend because it sounds like it might be an interesting opportunity. All of the wonderful investments that have been made in the community to increase tourism are starting to pay off and the A&DD is a perfect example of that.”
Mayor Jim Brainard spoke on the administration’s behalf and weighed in on how everyone has something to gain from the events and festivals that have made a home in the streets of Carmel.
“The festivals are another way to market the city and support the local businesses,” Brainard said. “The hope is that a large percentage of those people will continue to come back again and again. I understand that merchants are concerned when the streets are closed; at the same time, one has to take advantage of the marketing opportunities. During one of the major festivals, there are thousands of people walking past the merchants on that closed street. There is an opportunity to get out there and pass out coupons, give out samples of your product and get people in and to get to know people. The merchants who have succeeded over the years are the ones that take the opportunities presented by the various events and market aggressively during those events and festivals.”
The administration has been very supportive and has been very active in promoting festivals that draw people to the district. “There was a period of time when not many people went to the ‘Old Town’ area of Carmel,” Brainard said. “After it was turned into the A&DD, we needed to get people back there to see what had happened and what was happening. The festivals are a fun way to do that and it’s worked very well for all of us. The amenities, the sculptures, the cosmetics, the outdoor dining, the underground parking…all of these things contribute to making it a good experience when people visit us. We’ve also focused on attracting galleries, unique stores and quality restaurants which one can’t find everywhere. All of these things together make it fun for people to see a show, use the trails, shop our stores and stay 2-3 days and enjoy Carmel.”
One of the merchants located in the heart of the A&DD is The Olive Mill, managed by Steve Hannah. Steve shared his experiences being located right on the corner of Main Street and Range Line Road, directly in the line of fire when the intersecting streets are closed for an event.
“We’re fairly new here. We’re going on a year and a half at this location but we’ve been here for all of the different festivals,” Steve said. “Our previous experiences at our stores in Saugatuck, Michigan, and Geneva, Illinois, are that these areas are very much like Carmel and host a lot of events. We came with a bit of perspective. All of the festivals that bring people into the area are quite fabulous for us. We do look at it from a long-term perspective. It may be there are some events that on that day, the people we see coming in may not be spending a lot of money. It may be that our numbers reflect it’s a fabulous day to have all of these people in town. I do believe that our numbers in the future are going to increase because of growing awareness that we’re here.”
“Last year, during the Carmel International Arts Festival and Artomobilia, we had a great day both financially and in terms of the exposure. We’ve seen a real positive effect from all of the different events in town. People who didn’t know we existed, do now. The events set up an environment that is unique and creates a fun place to be. That always brings in more people. Like our shop, it’s about an experience and the fact that you can come in and sample the products we have, take your time and feel good when you leave. The same can be said when our residents and guests visit the Arts & Design District.”
For a calendar of events, visit carmelartsanddesign.com. To contact the Hamilton County Convention and Visitors Bureau visit visithamiltoncounty.com and to learn more about The Olive Mill visit olivemillgeneva.com/carmel.html.
Tourism statistics for 2014
• Hotel occupancy rate was at 76.4% through July for the Carmel/Westfield corridor.
• The week of July 4, traditionally not one of the strongest hotel room demand weeks, was up 8.6% for the same U.S. 31 lodging corridor over 2013, or at 53.4% occupancy in 2014
• July 4 was 69.1%, up .4% and July 5 was up 9.5% to 69.6% occupancy.