Festivals Have Their Place


Garlic Fest has become a Delray tradition providing much needed funds to local non-profits and schools. Photo by VMA Studios courtesy from Garlic Festival website.

Garlic Fest has become a Delray tradition providing much needed funds to local non-profits and schools. Photo by VMA Studios courtesy from Garlic Festival website.

We know people who love the Delray Affair.

We know others who wait with baited breath for the Garlic Festival (pun intended). And we know people who love craft beer and spend extra to buy VIP tickets to support Old School Square and enjoy the latest suds from small purveyors— many of them local.

We also know others who avoid the Delray Affair, don’t get the whole garlic thing and have no interest in tasting anything named Swamp Ape.

Different strokes for different folks as they say.

But whether you like or loathe events—and a recent poll of Delray voters show that 83 percent of them support and/or attend downtown special events–there’s no doubt that festivals have played a large role in building Delray’s brand.

There’s also no argument that they can be disruptive and costly. But a smart look at the issue would not just focus on impacts but benefits as well. In the coming weeks, Delray Beach commissioners are expected to consider a new event policy and cost structure. While many (not all)  of the policy recommendations we’ve heard about seem to make sense, the cost structure attached to the policy threatens to kill the events. This would be a big mistake. In many cases, the cost of events would nearly triple, which would most likely drive them out of business. That would be tragic.

Special events are a form of economic development. They bring people to your urban core and they help to ring cash registers and fill restaurants—and not just on the day of the event. Many people will come back to Delray after having been exposed to the downtown at a festival.

They also attract tourists and day visitors and some of those tourists and visitors have ended up investing here. We know many residents who decided to live here in part because they enjoyed the events and the overall vibrancy of the city. Events are placemaking and creating a sense of place is critically important.

Festivals also serve as important fundraisers for key community non-profits and they help to build community too.

Delray Beach is very fortunate to have a downtown, a place to gather. Cities without downtowns feel different and many seek to create urban cores to generate that community feeling.

Old School Square was a brilliant civic idea because instead of bulldozing history past visionaries like Frances Bourque recognized the strategic importance of having a cultural center at the heart of our city’s redevelopment efforts. And make no mistake Old School Square was the catalyst. The outdoor space is ideal for events and the new park– approved by voters in 2005 to replace an ugly surface parking lot– should be designed to host events and every day activities.

The energy created by the restoration gave life to efforts to create a vibrant downtown which is at the heart of our success and our economic well-being. Other cities have a beach; very few have a downtown like Delray Beach.

If you are fortunate enough to live anywhere near the downtown you have seen your property values soar–usually viewed as a good thing. There’s a correlation between our downtown’s success and property values. It’s doubtful we would’ve seen any appreciation if downtown remain vacant, blighted and dangerous. But when you are a short golf cart ride away from over 100 great restaurants, shops and yes events you can bet that translates into value. It also translates into qualify of life.

So yes there is a strong need to preach quality over quantity. Some events are tired and need to go or at the very least need upgrading. But that’s a very different conversation than a wholesale “cull”.  Where possible disruption should be mitigated and costs are always a factor but chasing away events from our central gathering place would be a big mistake especially if many of those events are contained, don’t close roads and are enjoyed by many. We should also consider that many of the events raise needed funds for worthy community non-profits.

A few emails and complaints is not a reason to jettison a formula that has worked. Event producers have stepped up and agreed to compromise on items such as their footprint, vendor quality and road closures. Our city leaders should declare victory, perhaps gently raise some fees and move on. Events belong downtown.




  1. Jeff, so perfectly explained. We need to continue to keep our ‘residents’ informed. Many do not know that events are being nudged out of town. The benefits of special events have a cumulative effect in so many ways. We have reinvented all the events we produce to address the outcry from our current city commissioners but they haven’t seen the final plans, they haven’t been informed of all the upgrades, enhancements or steps we’ve taken to reduce the impact. It is so important that we educate everyone in our community what’s happening.

  2. Joe Dunleavy says

    I plan all my vacation trips to Delray around the activities and festivals. I love the downtown feel.

  3. Kelly Barrette says

    Hi Jeff-

    I admit that I’m surprised at the poll of Delray voters showing 83% support the festivals.
    Where can I find the results of that poll?


    Kelly Barrette
    Delray Beach resident

  4. Beth Johnston says

    Thanks Jeff, well said. Economic Development 101 preaches ancillary income from development whether it is a new shopping center in the area, a popular restaurant or an event. That includes how developers of homes/town homes/condos/apartments benefit and Real Estate Agents sales rise in number and value of home. The tax base grows. Residents benefit. The city becomes more attractive to new business. It’s not a difficult concept to understand.

  5. Well said- and so true, I have lived in 6 South Florida cities in my 20 years in Florida, and chose to settle in Delray Beach 14 years ago specifically because of how the events get people out of their homes and actually sharing experiences together. I’m sad and disappointed that these relatively new voices in Delray have turned the tide and that our commission is being swayed by those few voices who happen to scream the loudest. It has recently felt like those who are being given the most honor are those who have chosen to call Delray home during the time when our events were in full swing – and yet they chose to move here – to immediately complain. It seems to me, the honor should reside with those who have helped to develop this bustling little town – but somehow those voices are ignored by our current leadership.

  6. Gregg Weiss says

    Great article –

    To the naysayers who have no clue about economic impact –

    Every festival / event has it’s own special demographic –

    There’s a standardized calculator that’s used to estimate economic impact from events / festivals.

    The city uses it – the CRA uses it – the DDA uses it – the DBMC uses it –

    Aside from the calculator, we have had hard data from the hotels, restaurants and other businesses that show increased revenue during these events.

    Delray Affair, Garlic Fest, St, Patty’s Day Parade, etc. all have a major positive economic effect on the city – it’s not arguable, it’s a statistical fact. A fact that gets lost on the very vocal but very small minority

    But there’s more to the equation than just hard dollars.

    What most people forget is that Delray Beach is a tourist town. Whether the new locals like Cindi want to admit it, the facts are according to the city’s own stats: Tourism is the # 1 Industry in Delray –

    So how do you brand Delray with all the other competition / drive destinations such as Naples, The Keys, St. Augustine, West Palm, South Beach, etc? Marketing

    The promoters of these events: Chamber, DBMC, FMG, DDA, spend tens of thousands of dollars to not just promote the events, but promote Delray – Millions of social media impressions per year, hundreds of press releases, hundreds of blog posts, dozens of articles and stories in national media outlets – all do the job of branding Delray.

    For those are too new to know how Delray used to handle tourism – it was done via the Chamber Of Commerce – we had someone who specifically handled tourism / destination marketing.

    The city was not an active player in marketing back in the day.

    Now, the DBMC is the organization charged with branding and marketing for tourism in Delray, and they do an exceptional job.

    But that job is made infinitely easier by the likes of the Chamber, FMG, DDA who through our joint efforts, help carry the torch of marketing to brand Delray as the ultimate place to play and stay.

    So unless Delray magically changes from a tourism based economy to something else, Tourism is here to stay as the primary economic driver.

    Aside from the volunteers, there are thousands of jobs at risk if the tourism economy wanes or collapses.

    Whether the naysayers want to believe it or not – these events are crucial to the tourism and branding of Delray.

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