On a recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, I had the opportunity to visit Redwood City for the first time. In the past, I’ve seldom ventured outside of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose. Let me tell you, my visit to Downtown Redwood City on Friday night was a pleasant surprise.
My friend invited me to Redwood City’s Music in the Square Concert Series. Based on some of the neighborhoods I drove through or glimpsed from the BART train, I expected to see a slightly run down town, trying to revitalize itself. As I neared downtown Redwood City, I realized how wrong I was.
My friend and I parked on a street near the square; we didn’t even have to pay the meter because it was after 6pm. We walked around the corner into the town square, and whoa. Hundreds of people (singles, marrieds, families); all gathered in the square on lawn chairs, at picnic tables, on blankets. I even saw a few people sitting in a fountain. Luckily, my friend had some folks save us good seats. According to them, an hour before the evening’s event was to start, all the seats were taken. As it was, we were about 20 minutes early and it was standing room (or sit on the ground) only.
I was surprised and delighted. Before my eyes: A downtown strategy that is actually successful at bringing people downtown.
For FREE, Redwood City offers Friday night music. And according to Redwood City’s downtown representative, Friday nights aren’t the only night that downtown pops . From my vantage point on the square I could see two theatres and several restaurants and other attractions that I’m sure pull folks into the downtown area afterhours.
Redwood City’s downtown is very nice. Their downtown event series is one of the best I’ve seen for any city, but specifically for a city of their size. I do have a few suggestions.
1 Count Attendees. I love that Redwood City’s events are free, but I still think they should have manned entrances. This way they would be able to count the people who attend. Give everyone wrist bands or have a turnstile.
2 Limit outside food and beverages. We were able to freely bring alcohol and outside food into the square. That’s right. We didn’t even have to buy food at one of Redwood City’s downtown restaurants. We stopped at a corner store and bought chips, candy and wine coolers. Our friends also brought cheese, wine, and berries to enjoy during the music. And we weren’t the only ones on the square that night with coolers of food, as I surveyed the square almost everyone brought food from home.
3 Make sure that downtown businesses get exposure. One reason for downtown events is to promote downtown businesses. At some point in the evening draw attention to downtown attractions. Just because folks come downtown for music, doesn’t mean that they’ll stick around t o eat, drink and buy stuff. Make sure they know what is available downtown.
Redwood City’s Music on the Square was one of the highlights of my last Bay Area trip. I hope the residents know what a treasure they have there. Based on the crowd on Friday…. they know.