Imagine banners affixed to street poles in Downtown Vista featuring the artwork of local students. Or strolling down Main Street and sampling craft brews while swaying to the bluesy rhythms at an even bigger street festival than in previous years. Or maybe attending a farmer’s market that has the energy of a carnival.
You won’t have to imagine these things in the next year in Vista, thanks in part to a new grant program – administered by the City and a group of downtown merchants – aimed at promoting and marketing the city’s historic core to a wider audience.
The grants have been awarded through the Central Vista Business Improvement District (CVBID), an area in downtown Vista in which business owners pay an assessment fee that goes toward programs, events, and marketing to attract people to Downtown Vista. The CVBID encompasses all of downtown Vista’s businesses in three zones – Vista Village, historic Main Street, and South Santa Fe. Vista is the only city in North County that has a business improvement district.
Historically, the City contracted with the Vista Village Business Association to administer the fees and arrange the programming. Since late 2018, however, the program has been managed by City staff. This strategy removes the portion of administrative costs so the funds can go directly to help promote the businesses that contribute to the CVBID.
This particular model in terms of distributing grants is an innovative approach created by the City of Vista to maximize the impact of the amount of funds it has to improve downtown.
“The model could be replicated in other parts of the country for cities that are looking for alternative ways to enhance their downtown,” said Kevin Ham, Vista’s Economic Development Director. “This is a creative way for businesses to pool their resources at a low cost to draw attention to the whole downtown area.”
This year’s grants – totaling more than $45,000 and approved by the Vista City Council in June – include:
$3,500 to Discover Vista for printing and promotion of Downtown Vista public events
$1,250 to Discover Vista for trash enclosure management
$3,600 to Discover Vista for the Vista Night Out Music program, which would attract live music to downtown’s monthly market to encourage local Vistans and neighboring cities to come to Downtown Vista on a monthly basis
$10,000 to Discover Vista for the annual Winterfest
$10,000 to the San Diego Brewers Guild, Rhythm & Brews Music and Craft Beer Festival
$7,000 to the Backfence Society’s pilot Student Art Banners Over Vista program
$10,000 to Wavelength Brewing Company for the STEMivate North County event in Downtown Vista
“We are really excited to see where the program takes us,” said Lisa Deju, the chairwoman of the Central Vista Business Improvement District (CVBID) Advisory Board, which selected the grant recipients. “Some of the programs are for things and events that have happened before, and some are completely brand new and different, but they all have the same thing in common: promoting downtown.”
The grant recipients said they are excited, too.
“I am completely delighted about the grant and so grateful for the opportunity to work on this project,” said Kelly Moncure, a board member of the Backfence Society.
“This way, we would get more diversity in terms of the applicant pool, which is what we were hoping for,” Deju said.
Deju said the response was overwhelming – 20 groups applied, requesting a total of over $137,000 when the application window opened in March. Applicants could either apply for the major grants ($1,000 to $10,000) or for a microgrant of less than $1,000.
“We were extremely excited by the response, but it made our job that much harder to narrow the list down, but we did, and we feel we made some good decisions,” Deju said.
The four organizations that received the seven grants include the San Diego Brewers Guild, the Backfence Society, Wavelength Brewing Co., and Discover Vista.
Discover Vista’s (formerly the VVBA) plans include the expansion of one of Vista’s time-honored Winterfest, as well as its monthly market, Vista Night Out. According to the Discover Vista application, the goal is to use the funds to expand the Vista Night Out to make it a destination event, much like the popular Sunset Market held in Oceanside.
The Brewers Guild said that its $10,000 grant – which will cover about 10 percent of the budget for the annual Rhythm and Brews Festival – sees the grant as seed money that will help the organization expand the festival’s reach through marketing and promotion. Rhythm and Brews, a downtown staple since 2011, has grown from 23 to 65 brewers since the Brewers Guild took over the event in 2013.
“With CVBID’s support, we have an opportunity to further increase marketing and advertising throughout San Diego County and beyond, driving even more attendees to the event and to downtown Vista,” said Paige McWey Acers, the executive director of the San Diego Brewers Guild and a Vista native. “We are extremely appreciative of the grant and the support we have received from CVBID. We see our relationship as a partnership to further build San Diego’s reputation as the Capital of Craft as well as to drive awareness for downtown Vista as a leading craft beer destination in the county.”
Meanwhile, Wavelength Brewery, one of five craft breweries in Downtown Vista, opened in 2014 with the mission of combining founder Hans Haas’ two loves – craft brewing and science.
“A tasting room is a great family friendly gathering place that can offer the community a chance to sip, ponder, and appreciate science and how it allows us to explore our universe, from astronomy to microbiology,” Haas said. “ So for us, the STEM connection is more than a side project, it’s our mission.”
Wavelength has hosted a Friday Night Science Talk series every Friday at the tasting room for three straight years, as well as three science fairs with its partner, Vista-based Open Source Maker Labs.
This year, Hans said, the brewery wanted to expand the science fair concept on Sept. 29 under the name “STEMivate,” and that’s when he heard about the new CVBID grant program.
Haas said the goal for this year is to double the attendance of the fair from its previous record.
“The CVBID grant is going to help us increase the reach of the event and add even more presenters and activities for the community to participate in,” he said. “It will comprise over 80% of this year’s budget, with the goal of doubling our previous attendance record of 750 people.”
“We are grateful for the support and are confident that our event will help support the BID,” he added. “The science fairs we’ve put on in the past are always on a Sunday, as this helps downtown businesses on an otherwise slow day.”
The Backfence Society, a nonprofit established in 2011 aimed at creating positive community engagement through art, drew inspiration for its Downtown Banners proposal from a North County neighbor – Encinitas. There, the 101 Artists’ Colony’s annual “Arts Alive” banner program has been wildly popular, as every summer, professional artists create banners that line six miles of Coast Highway 101 between Leucadia and Cardiff-by-the-Sea.
The 32 banners in Vista would represent one from each of the 32 schools in the Vista Unified School District. And the artwork would be 100% student driven.
“The banners are going to be an exciting addition to downtown,” Deju said, adding that banners will also give the downtown merchants an opportunity to showcase their new logo and branding materials, which has been part of a companion effort by the CVBID Advisory Board to reinvent itself, including the recent launch of its new website: www.downtownvista.org.
Now, Ham said, the city will actively monitor how each of the programs unfold. If the grants are successful, the revamped program could become a staple in Vista for years to come. Also, the grants help support events that may not happen without the funds.
“These funds are not intended for events that make a profit,” Ham explained. “The funds are intended for direct expenses or specific enhancements to existing events that will add additional benefits.”
“We are excited to see how these organizations and programs flourish,” he added.“Their success will greatly impact the City, downtown and the overall quality of life for residents and visitors.”