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Friday, August 2, 2013

In September, Raleigh's M.A.I.N. is our best events — it's so NOT the General Assembly

Posted by on Fri, Aug 2, 2013 at 3:23 PM


So happy to be downtown in Raleigh today and have it NOT be about the General Assembly and the newest miseries the Republicans could inflict. But they're GONE, the Republicans — well, not ALL gone, but then Gov. Pat McCrory was little more than a spectator to the carnage ... the same as the rest of us.

With the siege of Raleigh lifted, we can once more breathe the air of freedom and look ahead to one helluva great month in September.

It's called Raleigh'S M.A.I.N. Event.


Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin (left) with other Raleigh M.A.I.N. luminaries. Sarah Powers, Sparkcon guru and an Indy Arts award winner, is wearing the black top (center).
  • Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin (left) with other Raleigh M.A.I.N. luminaries. Sarah Powers, Sparkcon guru and an Indy Arts award winner, is wearing the black top (center).
I'm not in love with "branding" as a rule. But when the branding is about attracting more good things to the good ones you have already — Silicon Valley, e.g., or the Research Triangle Park — go for it. September in Raleigh began with Sparkcon seven years ago. Then the African-American Cultural Festival and Hopscotch came along. In there somewhere, the Ray Price Capital City Bikefest turned into a giant motorcycle meme. Throw in some entrepreneurship stuff, and Datapalooza popped up. (No idea what that is.)

And in 2013, for the first time we have the International Bluegrass Music Association's World of Bluegrass event in town — which is going to be very cool.

It all reminds me of my visit to the Savannah Music Festival years ago. A few music events, properly branded and marketed, became a solid two weeks of events, then three weeks of events — and not all music.

At Innovate Raleigh, where the goal is to think our way to being a truly kickass city, near fist-fights broke out about whether Raleigh should be branded as hip, family-friendly or just as a seriously smart city, according to City Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin. I think she was kidding about the fist-fights, but she said it twice, so maybe not.

Anyway, the brand they picked for our chock-filled September is M.A.I.N. Event — with M.A.I.N. short for music, art, innovation and noise. (Ray Price sells Harley-Davidsons.) It's a name to convey hip & family & smart, Baldwin said. When she explained the initials, ending in noise, that was the cue for some Harley riders to rev their engines.


Afterward, some folks were trading war stories about how hard it was to get the city to pay attention when Sparkcon was first proposed. (Thomas Crowder was the exception.) Later, it was a bear to get Raleigh to agree that City Plaza could be used for a ticketed music event, as it is now for Hopscotch.

But I've been around long enough to remember how hard it was, long before Sparkcon, to get people to realize that Raleigh needed to reopen Fayetteville Street and rip out the #FAIL Fayetteville Street Mall. We had to get rid of Tom Fetzer/Paul Coble and, in 2001, elect Charles Meeker mayor before that could happen.

In each case, though, the people who had the idea first stuck with it, built support over time, and turned early setbacks into eventual, very sweet triumphs. In each case the city — staff, Council, "leaders" — moved from bureaucratic nay-saying to grudging support to active public investment that helped the new thing.

And you know what?

That $10-15 million that Raleigh spent reopening Fayetteville Street might just be the best money any city ever spent — at least since the Romans invested some denarii in early feats of civil engineering.

A few public dollars invested in Sparkcon helped lead to Hopscotch, which led to the iBMA World of Bluegrass, which will lead to — more.

And with Innovate Raleigh, city leaders are now in the hunt for the next M.A.I.N. event, not an obstacle to it.

I bring this up for two reasons.

One, it would be nice if the General Assembly — the Republicans — would realize the value of public investments in building a private economy. Since they don't, however, thank goodness they're gone.

And two, it's been 10 years since city leaders decided to reopen Fayetteville Street and begin a process of transformation in downtown Raleigh that, a decade later, has been almost unbelievable if you recall how dead it was before.

This week, I said it could take 10 years to get win back the General Assembly. If that sounds like a long time, consider the alternative — and remember, time flies when you're having fun and working for what's right.

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It's almost unbelievable how one good thing led to another in downtown Raleigh. With the legislature gone, we can smile again.


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