It’s over now; one more year of MarketFest has come and gone.
It seems just a moment ago that I was standing in the center of Library Park in downtown Redding for the first show of the new MarketFest season, surrounded by a large, happy crowd jammed into a very tiny park listening to great music.
I couldn’t help it – I had a huge smile as I took in a scene that after 14 years has become pretty commonplace at this time of the year – people young and old who have no idea how this whole thing came about, and probably couldn’t care less. For them it’s all about listening to the music, eating and drinking, and just having a good time with friends.
But I remember how this started. It was February of 1995 when local attorney and downtown business owner Dugan Barr started a chain of events that continue to this day. At his suggestion, a group of local architects, of which I was one, volunteered to create a “concept plan” for revitalizing a downtown that had fallen on difficult times.
During one of many community meetings with local citizens looking for ideas on how to make good things happen in downtown, another attorney, Jeff Swanson, suggested a downtown festival.
The idea made it into the final Downtown Plan presented to the Redding City Council in early 1996. Shortly thereafter, a small but determined group was formed. Led by Shawn Tillman, the first MarketFest was born on August 1, 1996.
It should be remembered that creating a brand new music festival from scratch in a few short months was no small feat. A few of us remember that during those lively planning sessions every Monday evening in the old Westside Station adjacent to the park, everything was bantered about including what to call the event (luckily, the name ParkMarket was voted down early on). The group asked and received from the City of Redding $2000 as seed money to fund the event. MarketFest, as it was eventually named began in a much different version of Library Park than the one that exists today.
Absent of a stage or misting fans, it was in fact more a parking lot than a park. I remember standing in the center of Library Park on that very first opening day, wondering whether anyone would actually show up.
Show up they did, that day and every Thursday afterward throughout the summer. The event even made money that first year, money that contributed in no small way to the downtown improvements we see today. It should be noted that the City Council was given a check for $3,150 that first year, causing at least one council member to state that a 160 percent return made this one of the city’s better investments.
But the real contribution of MarketFest has never been about the money; it’s been about creating a place downtown where people want to go on a hot summer evening just for the fun of it.
That first summer, every Thursday for two months a few of us manned an information booth with renderings of the downtown we dreamed about for Redding, explaining to anyone who would listen that downtown could once again become a great place.
It was a tremendously idealistic time and when each Thursday evening was over, with hoarse voices and exhausted bodies we happily trudged home convinced we had increased our following.
Success bred success, as 1997’s MarketFest opened in a newly refurbished park where the parking had miraculously been replaced by landscaped walking paths (and when was the last time you heard that happen). In 1998, the summer festival expanded onto Placer Street for the farmer’s market, and it continues that way today.
Elsewhere in downtown, the Market Street Demonstration Block was completed (at least in part leading to the eventual purchase and renovation of the Cascade Theatre). For the opening in 1999, the park improvements continued with a new stage modeled after the Carnegie Library, which once resided there. Still not done, the City of Redding added misting fans in 2000. Meanwhile, adjacent to the park the new Yuba Streetscape was completed.
The park improvements are mostly complete for now, but each summer ushers in new improvements to downtown. After several years of fundraising at MarketFest with tours through the old theatre, the Cascade Theatre opened its doors again to great fanfare in August of 2004.
This year, it should be noted that fundraising at Marketfest continued in grand tradition with the Riverfront Playhouse looking to relocate into downtown in the near future. And perhaps most amazingly, the roof is off the Downtown Mall at last, and we can once again think about Main Street returning to Redding.
There are far too many dedicated volunteers to name all those whose hard work has been an integral part of this ongoing success story. However, it’s well past the time to thank those few whose initial energy resulted in that first Marketfest of 1996: Shawn Tillman, Naomi Yamamoto, Jerry Brown, Torri Pratt, Jeff Swanson, Matt Wells, Jim Gilmore, Heather Cibula and Marie Retucci (plus super City of Redding employee Larry Morgon).
Because if you go down to Library Park any evening now that MarketFest is over, you can search in relative quiet for the single boulder in the middle of the park with a small engraved plaque adorned with a Margaret Meade quote that says it all:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that has.”
James Theimer is the principal architect and founder of the Redding-based firm Trilogy Architecture.
Click here to read more pieces by him.