Summer Nights festival is preparing to enter its fifth year in downtown Rapid City. The first event is June 7th.
Last summer, between 8,000 and 12,000 people came to Rapid City’s downtown all within a two or three-hour time frame, every Thursday night. That’s 13 Thursday nights with an average of nearly 10,000 people each night, totaling some 130,000 people who had feet on the ground in our downtown! That’s 130,000 people all having access to each other, food and drink, kids games, vendors, open stores and closed storefronts, art, and let’s not forget awesome music, loud, sometimes wild bands and dancing. A festival.
The RCPD are present for each Summer Nights event. We do so, for these two main reasons:
- It’s a large crowd. We have an obligation to provide our services for crowds such as this. A town of 10,000 people would have a police force size in the neighborhood of 15-18 police officers. We get by for three hours with a fraction of that. Yes, there is a cost for providing this service for Summer Nights.
- In our business, we only have contact with our citizens under less-than-favorable circumstances. Day in, day out. We usually contact crime victims, crime suspects and traffic violators, while the overwhelming majority of the people never have cause to interact with us. It’s been suggested that we charge Summer Nights for our time. Why would we charge someone for the opportunity to interact with thousands of good law-abiding tax payers? We also staff parades, outdoor concerts and perform funeral escorts but we don’t think about charging for them. Why not? Our bill has already been paid by them. The citizens need to see us as part of the community, not just enforcers. Since the inception of Summer Nights… we’ve arrested 2 people. Three cars have been towed at Summer Nights’ expense.
There’s four points I want to make here:
(1) On Thursday nights during the summer our downtown space is full. More so than any other time. I am not a businessman, but I am blessed with the powers of observation. The downtown revitalization is now. Right now. Finally. This summer with Main Street Square AND Summer nights, there is opportunity like never before in Downtown Rapid City. It’s become a pleasure to visit and shop downtown… a privilege.
(2) More people attend one Summer Nights event than vote in the average city election. Any good politician knows this. While Summer Nights is busy proving itself as an asset to the community, it gets the approval of thousands of community members each week. One out of seven Rapid Citians prioritizes their options, drives downtown, parks up to a quarter mile away and walks into the event. The other six people who don’t care to go to the event… don’t. They stay home or find something else to do. A few of us who forget it’s Thursday try to drive through the vicinity of downtown. We get stuck in traffic for up to several minutes….then….we are free again.
(3) It’s possible… just possible, that not every business is the perfect match for the “new” downtown. I realize there are businesses who have suggestions on parking (including only allowing one-hour parking), the configuration of the event, etc. I have heard suggestions to move it out of downtown. It seems to me that the common theme of the suggestions would serve to keep downtown more the way it used to be. My opinion is inconsequential in the overall scheme of things, after all, I am just a simple policeman…but I would be hesitant to second-guess the very group that made Summer Nights such a success and brought so many people to our downtown shopping district.
(4) Beer is sold at the Summer Nights events. It is the only funding source for the organization. The bands have to be paid and there are costs associated with the set-up and tear-down, plus many other incidental expenses. There are a few people in the community who want to deny or limit the sale of beer at this event, citing alcoholism and other alcohol-related problems as well as the perceived conflict between advertising Summer Nights as a “family” event and having a relatively high volume of ”adult” beverage sales. I am not a big beer-drinker; in fact I still have one Dos Equis (XX) in my fridge leftover from a six-pack I bought last August (still good since there is no expiration date). I agree with folks who are against alcohol abuse – many of our officers would like to chime-in on that point as well. But to hold Summer Nights’ feet to the fire for selling beer 13 nights a year when many bars sell beer 360+ nights per year is at the very least hypocritical.
I will close with this: Summer Nights is not only good for downtown business as a whole, it’s good for the economy and good for the community. In addition to providing a downtown activity that attracts local and visitor crowds, they make a number of donations to community projects and service providers. The city council should approve their beer license for 2012 and leave the event planning to the professionals. Surely there must be a way to resolve any event-related conflicts without looking this gift horse in the mouth. I hope to see all of you this summer at Summer Nights!