With Mandi Thomas from the Downtown Austin Alliance.
In this podcast we talk to Mandi Thomas, Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Downtown Austin Alliance. Mandi manages the events, programming and operations of Republic Square, a community park in downtown Austin frequently used for events.
In the episode Mandi talks about what goes into managing a public park and event space. She gives an overview of the key elements of her role which include business development, sales, fundraising, event planning and venue management. Mandi shares specific insights on event programming, key challenges and maximizing year round usage of a space.
The Downtown Austin Alliance is a local organization made up of property owners in the downtown community. Their purpose is to protect and promote Austin’s downtown through advocacy, strategic initiatives and planning.
Listen now or read the show notes below.
Mandi’s background includes roles in sales and corporate partnerships for venues operated by AEG Presents one of the world’s largest live music companies. Mandi has been working as Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Downtown Austin Alliance for the past three years managing sponsorships, partnerships and business development.
Mandi’s Advice for Sponsorships
- KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE - Understand the community you’re working with and the types of sponsorships that will work best for that community and your event.
- INTEGRATE SPONSORSHIPS - Find ways to bring the sponsoring brand to life so it can be experienced. Integrate sponsorships into event programming where possible. Creating authentic meaningful integrations that are valued by the sponsoring businesses and event attendees.
- ITS OK TO SAY NO! - If a sponsorship doesn't make sense for the event and doesn't add value to your goals or the experience of the participants, seek a better match.
Managing a Public Park Venue
Republic Square is the first public park in Austin to be managed through a public/private partnership with the city, allowing a revenue model where the Downtown Austin Alliance can rent out the space. This provides more flexibility than other city parks, in both the design and how events are coordinated.
The Downtown Austin Alliance met with community stakeholders and outlined guiding principles for the park that would be written into an agreement with the city. The aim was for the park to be family friendly and open to everyone. A collaborative space with a balance of programming, inclusive and welcoming to a diverse audience.
Because Republic Square is designated as a public park, there are restrictions on the number of closed/private events that can be held each year. Weddings are not permitted in the park, but other events and organizations can apply to use the space. Part of the venue management role includes working with event producers on event permits, requirements and advising on the best use of the space.
Event and Activity Programming
As a venue manager the Downtown Austin Alliance can curate the experiences offered at the park. They’re always looking for authentic and unique ways to use the park, weaving in the local culture. They aim to combine established events with new events that reflect the changing nature of the downtown area.
Partnering with downtown businesses to run activities in the park is an important element. The Downtown Austin Alliance partnered with Austin Community College, who run free foreign language classes in the park on Saturday mornings. Another partnership is with Wanderlust who offer yoga in the park.
The goal is to offer a balanced program of events throughout the year, with event request applications evaluated on what makes sense for the community. Looking for opportunities to create authentic and unique event programming, working with event producers to bring interesting events into the park. Considering wider community needs is also a good idea, such as becoming a meeting place for bus shuttles to other major events in the city.
Competitive Applications for a Popular Public Event Space
Mandi recommends being as comprehensive as you can in the application. Think about the space you’re applying for and consider their objectives. If you were applying to Republic Square for example, you would consider that they are looking for events and activities that benefit the community. You know they are interested in programming that is inclusive, multicultural, family friendly, unique or new. If your event fits this criteria, be sure to mention that in the application.
What to include in your application:
- What is the event/experience you want to bring to the park?
- Who is the target audience?
- What is the community benefit?
- Why is this location the park of choice?
- If you have run this event before, provide an overview of its success and attendance numbers.
- If you haven't run the event before, you would emphasize how this is an exciting new event or experience for the community. Highlighting any unique elements.
Request to book Republic Square for an upcoming event.
Maximizing Year Round Use of an Outdoor Event Space
- Knowing your local community and their behaviors is really important. For example the Austin community is very heat tolerant when it comes to events, but numbers will drop quickly for outdoor events when its cold (unless it’s a holiday related activity).
- Awareness of other events held in the city is important. Particularly big events. Scheduling events in some of the less event heavy months is always a good idea.
- Events can be broken up with other activities held in the park, such as fitness and yoga classes.
- When scheduling events in a park, rest periods have to be planned between events to give the lawn a chance to recover.
Weather is the big one. You have to be flexible in planning, site design, the option to tent and potentially having a rain date on standby. Helping event organizers manage this is part of running an outdoor event space.
As a ticketing provider, Ticketbud offers Event Protect to our customers that protects ticket revenue in the case of qualifying unforeseen cancelations. This can minimize some of the financial risk for event organizers.
Another consideration for a public park is that community members want to use the park for civic movements or rallies. Republic Square is located right next to a federal courthouse, which requires staying connected with the community when these types of events come up. Mandi explains that they keep an eye on facebook events that mention Republic Square and reach out to organizers to work with them.
A public park is a living space that requires care and maintenance. This includes maintaining the lawn, irrigation systems and landscaping, as well as learning about rest periods for grass between events so you don't destroy it. This was all completely new territory for Mandi, who is experienced with events, but not in maintaining a park. Through trial and error she worked out the balance required to keep the park maintained in good condition.
Mandi’s Tips for Event Organizers
When it comes to events, things are never going to go perfectly. Be flexible enough to ride with that and embrace it.
Don’t be afraid to try new things and step outside of your comfort zone. Don't shy away from taking on a role that has a new challenge (like managing a public park). Have confidence in your ability to work it out.