Depending on whom you ask, Riverbend can either be a blessing or a curse.
Residents have varying opinions on the nine-day music festival, ranging from love to hate to “meh.”
And local restaurant owners have equally different points of view. Some of those perspectives depend on where people live and work.
There will be more than 100 bands on five different stages during Riverbend, which is scheduled to start today and end June 14.The event draws hundreds of thousands of attendees annually.
Roads are blocked off during the festival, as well as some time before and after it.
“I view Riverbend as a big plus for Chattanooga in general,” said Mike Monen, owner of four downtown-area restaurants-Urban Stack, Community Pie, Milk and Honey, and Taco Mamacita.
In his early years as a restaurateur, he imagined that Riverbend would be the craziest, busiest time ever. But that hasn’t always turned out to be the case.
His restaurants aren’t in locations that will be significantly impacted by road closures, and he said it’s basically a wash for business. Some of his regular customers might stay away, but some new faces are likely to come in, he said.
“It’s definitely going to affect businesses in different ways,” he said.
Ultimately, he thinks the exposure for downtown and the potential to introduce new customers to his restaurants outweigh any negative impacts.
Friends of the Festivalproduces events that unite and enrich our region, including Riverbend, which has an economic impact of more than $24 million, according to the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
Spokeswoman for Friends of the Festival Amy Morrow couldn’t be reached Thursday for comment on this article.
RestaurateurNathan Lindley of Public House said his business is typically busy.
And Champy’s, which is on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, benefits from the Bessie Smith Strut,Samantha Goonan with the restaurant said.
“We rent out our patio tables and bring in a band ourselves,” she said. “We have some beer tents and a food tent outside.”
There were a few tables left to rent as of Thursday. A minimum of four people is required, and it’s $25 a person, she said.
Todd Haynes, general manager of The Blue Plate, which faces the Riverfront where much of the action takes place, also rents out patio tables. It’s $185 for six seats.
Haynes said that during the week of Riverbend, The Blue Plate is much busier.
But he also said the business is negatively impacted by road closures before and after the event.
He agreed with Monen that it’s basically a wash-the gains and losses sort of cancel themselves out, he said.
But for co-owner of Easy Bistro & BarErik Niel, the losses outweigh the gains.
Last year, he estimates that he lost money eight out of the nine days, he said.
So this year, he’s not staying open the entire time. The restaurant will be open this weekend but closed some of next week. The whole thing is frustrating, he said.
The road closures significantly impact his business. They make it difficult for people to get there, and valet parking is one of the business’ draws, he said.
“This is the frustration-it’s impossible to plan for, from a business point of view,” he said.
His restaurant is typically open for brunch, but during Riverbend, it is a money-losing shift, he said.
“The number of non-break-even shifts is staggering,” he said.
The fundamental problem is that the festival hasn’t changed with the evolution of downtown, he said.
When the festival started in 1982 as a five-day festival, downtown Chattanooga was very different.
Several people, including Niel, said the festival should be shortened. They said that it should be modeled after other successful events, like Atlanta’s Shaky Knees or Austin’sSouth by Southwest.
Niel is also the president of the Riverfront Business and Resident Partnership, which formed about five years ago as a reaction to Riverbend but has since become an advocacy group for the area, he said.
He said that many residents in that area leave to avoid the festival.
And his point is that the festival could be modified to better accommodate what downtown is today, especially with many city leaders calling for more housing downtown.
“Riverbend has been unwilling to change their structure to include a revitalized downtown,” he said.