Interview with Ellen Fragola of The Downtown Raleigh Alliance

The Downtown Raleigh Alliance is responsible for many of the city's most popular events such as Restaurant Week and First Friday. Events like these encourage economic activity for local businesses, designers, and artists. Redress Raleigh thanks Ellen Fragola for taking the time to speak to us and giving our readers a glimpse of what goes on behind-the-scenes at the DRA. 

Redress Raleigh: Where does the Downtown Raleigh Alliance's operating budget come from? In other words, how does it make its money? 

Ellen Fragola: Our primary source of funding comes through the downtown business improvement district—a 110 radius in which the business owners pay an assessment fee to support our five key services.  Additionally, we receive funding through government contracts/grants and sponsorships that we raise for our events while membership makes up approximately 5% of our income. The purpose of our organization, is to augment, not replace city services. We provide five primary services. The most visible is the Clean and Safe Ambassadors.  This service is where we allocate the largest portion of our budget. Ambassadors assist in everything from providing pedestrian escorts to jump starting cars to graffiti removal to trash pickup. Having a clean and safe downtown is fundamental to a thriving center city.  For this reason, we see the ambassador service as a vital investment.  Other services include marketing and events, economic development, public space management, and membership and advocacy. 

RR: Volunteers are an integral part of any event marketing campaign. What outreach strategies does the DRA use to reach out to volunteers? 

EF: We have program managers that oversee each of our events so the outreach strategies may vary. We primarily need volunteers for Winterfest and Home Tour.  For Winterfest we have had success working with the schools because many students have an obligation to fulfill service hours for school credit.  For the Home Tour, the program manager works with a residential committee and a city liaison to help with volunteer recruitment. We also utilize our member distribution list and consumer distribution list for outreach. 

RR: How do you come up with ideas for new events? Is consumer demand a factor? 

EF: Our organization has to respond to various groups such as downtown businesses, property owners, residents, and employees. We always have those stakeholders in mind when developing events.  Restaurant Week, First Friday, and Shop Downtown are examples of merchant driven programs, whereas the Farmer’s Market caters to our downtown employees and the Home Tour appeals to residents.

RR: How often are fashion events a part of First Friday?  

EF: Fashion is not key in the messaging of First Friday, but what makes First Friday special is it provides an outlet for artists to showcase art in all its forms from visual to performing to multimedia.  Fashion is integrated to the extent by which the participants choose to showcase it.  As an example, Stitch is a locally owned boutique which is known for the craftsmanship of bag designer Holly Aiken, but she also exhibits art on First Fridays. Morning Times curates rotating art exhibits on their second floor but also programs a craft market which often features hand-screened tee shirts and handmade jewelry. It is the dynamic mix of art and activities that make First Friday appealing to people of all ages and interests.