Downtown’s monthly block party could be in jeopardy now that its main financial backer is pulling out at the end of the year.
Providence Service Corp. has decided it will invest its money in other local organizations and will stop ponying up about half of the $12,000 a month it takes to run the monthly 2nd Saturdays after Dec. 14.
The national company, headquartered in Tucson, will instead redirect its money to causes that support the company’s mission of creating healthier communities, specifically those that serve children, women and minorities living below the poverty line, said Warren Rustand, Providence’s CEO.
“Our specific emphasis and interest is investing in people,” Rustand said.
The decision puts the popular event in limbo as organizers scramble to find alternate funding sources.
Fletcher McCusker, who sits on the 2nd Saturdays Steering Committee, said if no one steps up to fill the void left by Providence’s departure, the event wouldn’t continue past December.
“With that short of notice, we’re at some real risk of not keeping the event unless we find a replacement sponsor,” McCusker said.
McCusker, former CEO of Providence, left the company in November 2012.
Rustand said at the time that Providence agreed to continue to fund 2nd Saturdays for one more year and after that it would re-evaluate its support.
“(McCusker) was very aware,” Rustand said. “It was one of many things that were talked about at the time.”
That’s news to McCusker, who said an email from Rustand on Nov. 25 was the first and only conversation he had with the current company regarding the monthly event. “It came out of the blue,” he said.
Rustand said he assumed McCusker would make arrangements to continue funding 2nd Saturdays through his new company, Sinfonía Health Care Corp.
McCusker said he would work hard to replace the funding but didn’t commit the new company to any promises.
2nd Saturdays began in May 2010 shortly after Providence moved its headquarters downtown and decided to fund the monthly event, which showcases artists, local vendors, musicians and more.
“We had just moved downtown, and we thought that would have been a very significant way for us to show our support,” said McCusker, who was then CEO of Providence. “Now it’s become a huge event that attracts 12,000 to 15,000 people a month.”
It costs $12,000 a month to put on the event and is entirely funded by sponsors, McCusker said.
Costs include barricades, stage, lighting and sound rentals, and other infrastructure rentals to make the event happen, he said.
Event organizers will try to cobble together enough funding sources over the next 30 days so the event can continue, McCusker said.
Councilman Steve Kozachik said Providence is making a mistake by pulling the plug on 2ndSaturdays.
“I think that it is really shortsighted of Providence management,” Kozachik said. “It’s an absolute boon to downtown, and I would hope maybe they would reconsider.”
Michael Keith, CEO of the Downtown Tucson Partnership and a 2nd Saturday Steering Committee member, said no other event has created as much buzz about downtown than 2nd Saturdays.
“It’s probably the No. 1 event associated with the downtown,” Keith said. “It’s a huge economic impact, and it’s helped put downtown Tucson on the map. Without it, I don’t think we’ll be able to support some of the businesses we’re supporting right now.”
With the streetcar set to open next year, the potential for the event to grow is enormous.
“We will do everything in our power to continue this event,” Keith said. “We will try to find good sponsors to help support it and keep this rolling.”
Downtown merchant Ari Shapiro said the business and exposure 2nd Saturdays generates have been a “huge asset” for his cafe, Sparkroot.
“We’ve always had huge crowds during 2nd Saturdays, and it’s definitely been a boon, if you will, to our little business,” Shapiro said. “We always look forward to it. It’s a good crowd. It’s definitely something we noticed. I think it’s also exposed new people to us as well because a lot of people come downtown for the first time during 2nd Saturdays.”
Local artist Tamina Muhammad has sold her handmade jewelry and paintings at 2nd Saturdays since its inaugural event and says the event is something many people, including her own family, look forward to each month.
“I’m a mom of three boys. They’ve grown up there helping me out at my booth and everything, so customers get to know them. They kind of get to be creative and put stuff out that they do,” Muhammad said. “It’s so important; we look forward to it every month. Not just the customers, but the vendors do, too. It’s the one time we get to get out with the community. There’s a lot of hidden talent out there. We get to … how different things that we can offer, and it’s just great exposure.”
Rustand said Providence will continue to support downtown and Tucson.
“We’re fully committed to this community,” Rustand said. “We’ll continue to make charitable investments in the community of Tucson.”