Clarendon owner working with city to bring music, arts festival to Phoenix

Ben Bethel, owner of the Clarendon Hotel, is working on bringing a music, arts and mixed media festival to Phoenix. (Madeline Pado/DD)

The owner of the Clarendon Hotel in midtown Phoenix is working with the city of Phoenix to establish an arts and music festival in downtown Phoenix that could start as early as next year.

Ben Bethel, who has owned the Clarendon Hotel for eight years, sees his work with the hotel as an effort to enhance the neighborhood and the community.

“I want to make people think that Phoenix is a cool city,” he said.

Bethel has also tried to look for holes and needs in the city’s economy. For Phoenix, the largest “need period” is in May, which coincides with a drop in tourism as well as an exodus of Phoenicians and their money to other cities, such as San Diego or Los Angeles.

Bethel’s proposed festival would coincide with an 11-day period in May that starts two Fridays before Memorial Day and ends on the Monday of the holiday, which he sees as an ideal period.

“School’s usually out for many universities, it’s a period when the convention center in Phoenix is really slow, the daytime temperatures are higher but the nighttime temperatures are really gorgeous, and all the facilities and venues are fairly empty,” he said.

The 11-day period also coincides with Phoenix Comicon, which brings in a built-in audience that is projected to reach numbers of 40,000 in the next year or two.

The festival would be built around Phoenix Comicon and shows that are already scheduled at Comerica Theatre and other large stadiums, and then involve venues such as the Phoenix Convention Center, Crescent Ballroom, Orpheum Theatre and others. The performances, which would include concerts, film and theater, would hopefully draw both tourists and Arizona locals.

“There’s a lot of music and a lot of jazz here, but Phoenix has no national reputation as a musical mecca,” said Joel Goldenthal, the executive director of Jazz in AZ. He acknowledged that a large-scale event could help that reputation. “A well-conceived, well-managed music festival would definitely benefit the local music scene.”

Bethel is also shooting for affordability.

“Rental cars are cheap (and) hotels are cheap, unlike other areas like San Diego and South by Southwest. I think this could be one of the most affordable festivals in the country.”

He added that this will leave attendees money to spend on local restaurants and other businesses, aiding the community and the state through the sales tax revenue.

“We’re trying to create something here that will not just improve the image of Phoenix and give people a sense of community and pride, it also prevents that exodus of money and people,” he said.

Bethel said that the mayor’s office is “definitely in.” Sarah Muench, communications director for the Phoenix mayor’s office, said members of the mayor’s office met with Bethel and are exploring ways in which the city government can help with the festival.

The festival is currently in its late early planning stages, but Bethel is confident that he has the resources for the event to hold its first trial year in 2013. His next step is to contact community and business leaders and other key players in the downtown and central Phoenix area.

“I think that a festival is a natural fit for the city,” Bethel said. “I don’t think there’s any reason that the sixth largest city in the US can’t pull this off.”

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Correction: Oct. 22, 2012

An earlier version of this article referred to it as a summer festival and included information on the lack of large events in Phoenix during the summer. Although the festival is meant to coincide with rising temperatures and students’ summer vacations, Ben Bethel is aiming for an 11-day period in mid-May, all of which is officially during springtime. The article and headline have also been changed to more accurately reflect that the festival is not just a music festival, but one for music, arts and other forms of media.