published on 06/02/2006
Nightfall Series and Miller Plaza
The Nightfall concert series begins its 18th season this year. From May to September, thousands of people begin their weekend at the free Friday night concert series. People of all ages and races -- including teens, families with kids, bikers, dog owners, and more -- all rub elbows at Miller Plaza. But there is another side of Nightfall.
"Most people who go to Nightfall don't realize that it was created to stimulate economic growth in downtown's central business district," said Carla Pritchard, executive director of the Chattanooga Downtown Partnership (CDP), which produces and funds Nightfall. "And why should they, really? They're having a good time. Nightfall succeeds because it's fun. But because it succeeds as an entertainment event, it supports downtown businesses and improves the economic vitality of downtown. And that's exactly what it was created to do 18 years ago."
Despite occasional rumors and speculation that Nightfall might move to a new location, the CDP is committed to keeping Nightfall in Miller Plaza, where it has been for the past 18 years. "As downtown has flourished, so has Nightfall, having grown into a popular community tradition," said Pritchard. "With downtown’s residential and commercial development continuing to thrive, it is imperative to keep the central city active and vibrant with events like the established, successful Nightfall Concert Series."
Nightfall is operated privately by the Chattanooga Downtown Partnership. All costs -- including national talent, local opening acts, sound, lights, and police -- are funded entirely through private sponsorships and concessions. Even the venue is privately owned: Miller Plaza was built in the 1980s with funding from the Lyndhurst and Tonya Foundations. The RiverCity Company owns and manages it as a community asset.
“Miller Plaza was built with private funds specifically with a program like Nightfall in mind," said Pritchard. "It is a park dedicated to the community with the hope that their enjoyment and entertainment would lead to continuing civic engagement, renewal and revitalization.”
Nightfall's Economic Impact
"When we surveyed our audience, we found that 68% of Nightfall patrons typically visit one or more downtown businesses before or after they attend Nightfall," said Pritchard. Destinations include restaurants (61% of Nightfall patrons), bars or lounges (40%), coffee shops (21%), movie theatres (15%), other music venues (13%) and retailers (6%).
When they visit downtown businesses, Nightfall patrons also spend money: 15% spend $41 or more, 26% spend $26-40, 43% spend $11-25, and 15% spend up to $10.
One reason the free concert series generates new downtown spending is the timing of the event. The opening act begins at 7 p.m. and the headliner at 8 p.m., which allows people plenty of time to go to a restaurant between the end of the workday and Nightfall. The concert ends around 9:30 or 10 p.m., which is early enough to allow patrons time to visit other evening venues if they care to.
"That scheduling was a deliberate choice," said Pritchard. "We want people to be able to visit Nightfall and also patronize the downtown businesses."
"We even get calls from tourists who say that they plan their weekend visit to include Nightfall," added Pritchard. "They call from out of town to see who's playing. If they like the act, rather than driving in on Saturday, they come a day early, see Nightfall, spend at extra night in a hotel, and go to the attractions Saturday and Sunday."
Downtown Businesses on Nightfall
Many downtown businesses appreciate the boost they get from Nightfall:
"The Nightfall concerts were an important aspect of our choice of location. Without Nightfall, our business would lose both the revenue and the exposure needed to keep Caffeine afloat in a highly competitive market," said Kelly Stephens, co-owner of Caffeine, located at 233 East M.L. King Blvd. This year, Caffeine became a sponsor of Nightfall, providing food for the musical acts.
"Nightfall nights are absolutely our best nights of the year. Everybody is in a good mood, and we like being full of customers," said Nick Bowers, owner of The Pickle Barrel, 1012 Market Street.
"Nightfall was a huge factor in our decision to update this 100-year old space and open a new Brass Register restaurant. You've got thousands of people attracted to Nightfall a block and a half away. People are going to want to go to restaurant close to where they are," said Sandra Ogle, co-managing partner of The Brass Register, 618 Georgia Ave.
"Within our target area, Nightfall promotes much needed growth and vitality in the core of downtown. We see Nightfall as a crucial way of putting focus on a downtown core that is seeking ways to revitalize," said Michael Kull, president of the Market Center Council of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
"We opened last November, after Nightfall was over, but we expect it to enhance our business. After ten o'clock people are going to be looking for places to go," said Geoff Tarr, co-owner of the Hair of the Dog pub, at the corner of Fourth and Market Streets.
Downtown Residents on Nightfall
A key part of revitalizing downtown has been attracting new housing development and new residents. Because it adds vitality to the area, it's no surprise that Nightfall is also important to downtown residents:
"One of the great pleasures my husband and I have had in living in the M. L. King Boulevard area is the ability to join our neighbors every Friday in walking down to Nightfall to enjoy the music and comradery. Last year, we started a potluck dinner prior to Nightfall, to extend our fellowship and enjoy a meal" said Merri Mai Williamson, resident of the M. L. King district.
"With the revitalization of downtown and especially the M. L. King community, we need more entertainment venues such as the Nightfall Series. It has had a wonderful effect in bringing the whole Chattanooga community together," said Elijah Cameron, executive director of the M. L. King Community Development Corporation.
Nightfall Complements Other Downtown Music Venues
Rather than competing with other downtown music venues, Nightfall fills a unique, non-competing niche. Working with a limited budget, the Partnership tries to book national acts that are on the rise but still affordable. Over the years, Nightfall has brought many acts that later became very well known.
"We try to get high quality performers who are on their way up," said Pritchard. "When we book them, they are usually not known well enough for them to fill a bigger venue like the Tivoli or Memorial Auditorium. By bringing them early in their careers, we give Chattanooga audiences a chance to see artists they wouldn't otherwise see here. Later in their careers, when they're well known, many of them come back to Chattanooga and perform in those larger venues."
Artists who have played Chattanooga first at Nightfall and then later in larger commercial venues include John Hyatt (1990), John Prine (1991), Alison Krauss and Union Station (1993), Keb Mo (1996), Bare Naked Ladies (1997), Bela Fleck (1999) and Nickel Creek (2001).
"Our artists love to play Nightfall because there is a real connection with the audience," said Pritchard. "They get a lot of energy from the audience. They love to see people so engaged, often getting right up to the stage. And they love to see so many ages and types of people."
The Chattanooga Downtown Partnership enhances the quality and viability of the downtown area by producing events and activities150 days of the year that are designed to animate and enliven the public spaces, and by providing the promotion and marketing necessary to attract people downtown.