Feature Article - March 2009
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Drawn to the Water

How Aquatic Settings Can Become a Community Gathering Place

By Jessica Royer Ocken


Partner on Promotion

Just as you don't have to build your entire magnificent vision in one swoop, you don't have to be solely responsible for everything that takes place at the waterfront. Finding appropriate partners for advertising and programming can be a huge help.

"The Riverwalk has been a popular natural setting for fundraising—walks, art shows, concerts and street fairs—almost since it first opened in 1981," said Naperville's Penick. "Over the years, millions of dollars have been raised on its brick path." Nothing builds community ties (and showcases your venue) like helping someone with their fundraising, and the Riverwalk also has a thriving relationship with the park district, which books and manages events, as well as several other outside sponsors, such as the Jaycees, who sponsor and promote the Last Fling carnival, and sports organizers who coordinate with the park district to put on a triathlon.

In Santa Barbara, Bridley works with the park district so waterfront events and activities are included in their annual guide to programs, but he also works with the merchants association representing the 60-plus businesses along the pier and beach to do some promotional activities. Bridley estimates that he spends $30,000 to $50,000 per year on this. "That's for things like fireworks on the 4th of July, the Parade of Lights (where boats dress up at Christmas), and the Harbor and Seafood Festival during crab and lobster season." He also coordinates with nearby hotels to make sure their concierges are aware of waterfront opportunities for guests, and he also does a little regional advertising to draw in visitors from nearby Los Angeles.

In Philadelphia, Milkman partners with local media to provide them with marketing access to Penn's Landing visitors in exchange for coverage of their events. They also have a number of longstanding corporate sponsors, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, which supports—and has naming rights to—the onsite skating rink that helps make Penn's Landing a destination all year round.

"Reach out to local organizations and offer to let them use your space in return for bringing an audience," suggested Milkman.

Each season includes 12 multicultural events, for which Penn's Landing just provides the site. "There's some cost, but it's more cost-effective than paying for the programming on top of it," Milkman added. "We don't generate revenue other than parking, but [these events] add to our season and make seasonal sponsorships more attractive to sponsors because they get exposure there."

Finally, don't forget to keep the local Chamber of Commerce, newspapers and magazines up to date on what's happening at the waterfront, as they can easily help you spread the word—if you first spark their attention.