Guest Post: AMA's Urban Picnic with the Cleveland Metroparks

This week’s guest posts are all about enjoying the outdoors in Cleveland! Today, Jessica from Anchored in CLE recaps the recent Cleveland AMA Urban Picnic with the Cleveland Metroparks.

Hi! I’m Jessica and I’m a recent marketing graduate from Kent State. I recently got to check out my first Cleveland American Marketing Association (AMA) event and now I’m here to tell you all about it.

On August 15th, the Cleveland chapter of AMA hosted an Urban Picnic featuring the Cleveland Metroparks.

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The AMA brought in the Cleveland Metroparks’ Chief Marketing Officer, Sanaa Julien and Director of Communications, Sue Allen to discuss their recent acquisition of over 450 acres of lakefront property including Edgewater Park. The event was hosted at the riverfront Rivergate Cafe in the Flats, and attendees were provided drinks and dinner from the StrEat Mobile Bistro Food Truck. The weather was absolutely gorgeous for an evening spent by the river!

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Myself, my boyfriend Mike, and my friend Dawn met up, got drinks, and mingled while people were arriving. We sat in the sunshine and enjoyed the river views!

Image 3 Dawn & myself and Mike & I

Then it was time to eat! StrEat Mobile Bistro had a delicious menu prepared for us:

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Image 6 Dawn and Mike ordering a delicious meal! (Photo by Helen Harry from Cleveland Print Room)

I had the Broccoli Mac & Cheese and the “Truck Made” Potato Chips – they were both great!

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After dinner, it was time for the presentation to begin. Patty DelMonico, the President of the Cleveland AMA chapter, started things off with an introduction and some background on AMA.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the American Marketing Association is a volunteer organization and is one of the largest marketing associations in the world, with over 30,000 members who work, teach and study in the field of marketing across the globe (via AMA’s website).

“The AMA is a professional association for individuals and organizations leading the practice, teaching and development of marketing knowledge worldwide.

Our principle role is to serve as a forum to connect like-minded individuals and foster knowledge sharing, provide resources, tools and training and support marketing practice and thought leadership around the globe.”

AMA’s website

The event was also sponsored by CLE Clothing Co, who has a new t-shirt partnership with the Metroparks. We learned that CLE Clothing Co was started in October 2008, and they opened their first store in 2010.

Next, the planner for this event, Kasey Crabtree, told us about the AMA’s next event – Mix at Six: Speakeasy Party on September 26th at Society Lounge on East 4th. I don’t know about you, but this sounds F-U-N to me! Plus, it’s the day after my birthday and I have been wanting to check out Society Lounge… count me in!

Patty then introduced Eric Barnett, who is the Metroparks Marketing Specialist and also President-Elect for Cleveland AMA, to be the moderator for the Metroparks discussion.

Sue Allen and Sanaa Julien started off by talking about the process the Cleveland Metroparks went through to acquire the Lakefront Reservation. The process really began almost 100 years ago, with the story of William Stinchcomb and his vision of connecting the lakefront to the surrounding community (the “Emerald Necklace”). The Metroparks of today began the acquisition process with discussions with the state (who owned the lakefront properties). The acquisition would transfer approximately 455 acres of lakefront property, including the following properties: Villa Angela, Wildwood, Euclid Beach, Gordon and Edgewater parks and the East 55th Street Marina that are spaced out along 14 miles of lakefront property. The state no longer wanted (or had the means to) operate these properties, and the Metroparks were approached to take them over. On June 6th, 2013, the state turned the property over to the city, who then turned it over to the Metroparks.

“The 455 acres that make up the six properties will be split into two Park District reservations. Edgewater Park, East 55th Street Marina and Gordon Park will form Cleveland Metroparks’ new Lakefront Reservation. Euclid Beach Park, Villa Angela Park and Wildwood Park will become part of its existing Euclid Creek Reservation.

To facilitate the transfer, the State of Ohio first had to agree to terminate the lease it had with the City of Cleveland to manage the parks. The agreement included $14 million from the state’s transportation and public safety budget to pay for lakefront park improvements. Cleveland City Council then voted unanimously to transfer management of the parks to Cleveland Metroparks in a new lease agreement.

The final agreement gives the Park District a 99-year lease on the 14 miles of lakefront property at a cost of $1 a year, and three years to spend the $14 million in state funds on park improvements.”

-Cleveland Metroparks Press Release

Image 9 (Photo by Helen Harry from Cleveland Print Room)

The next part of the discussion focused on the marketing aspects of the acquisition. One of the Metroparks’ main challenges was managing the public’s expectations. The state did what it could with Edgewater, but they wanted people to realize that even though there is new ownership, there wasn’t going to be an immediate/overnight difference. The Metroparks did promise to uphold the park to their reputation/standards.

During the acquisition process, the Metroparks placed high importance on listening to stakeholders and the community who would be using the reservations. They worked with LAND Studio to ensure a smooth transition by using surveys and meetings to find out the public’s opinion and what they really wanted from the new reservations.

Partnerships were increasingly important for the Metroparks during this time, including one with CLE Clothing Co. They also partner with the North East Ohio Regional Sewer District, who manages the cleanliness and quality of the waterways by monitoring the water and letting the public know whether it’s safe to swim or not. The Metroparks purchased a beach cleaning machine to help get the Edgewater property up to its standard. In the past, the state cleaned Edgewater Park 2 times per year. With the new beach cleaner, the Metroparks can clean the park 6 times per week. The new beach cleaner digs down 6 inches into the sand and the difference is noticeable. So far, they’ve been able to remove a lot of debris as well as clean up plant overgrowth.

Image 10 (Photo by Helen Harry from Cleveland Print Room)

Other communications issues the Metroparks had to deal with were keeping the deal private until it became 100% official. They didn’t want to spoil the deal, so working with the media was difficult because they had to explain how even though the city council approved it, it wasn’t a “done deal” – they still had to present it to the Metroparks board for approval.

The staff wasn’t able to comment on any media stories and had to deal with the media trying to release the story too soon. Once the deal was official, they had a huge design communications issue to deal with: all of the park signage had to be changed to reflect the Metroparks branding.

This was a lot more complicated than it probably sounds. There are hundreds of different signs throughout the lakefront properties, but the priority was put on the main signs with the name of the reservation, as well as updating all safety and emergency number signs so the public would be safe in the case of an emergency. Each Metroparks sign takes 2 months to make because they are hand carved from special wood and are made to last a very long time. They had to create temporary signs to put up immediately after the acquisition was announced so there wouldn’t be any confusion. There are a lot of partnerships with other organizations and entities to ensure public safety (which most people probably don’t think about).

During the acquisition, the Metroparks hadn’t created new marketing materials yet to reflect the new land. Replacing all old materials and adding new maps to the materials is an ongoing monumental task. They also had to become very familiar with the different uses for each park. For example, Edgewater Park is primarily an urban beach, whereas Gordon Park is used mostly for fishing and birdwatching. In marketing Edgewater Park, the most important factors were safety and cleanliness.

The Metroparks want to stay engaged with the community by being very communicative and visible. They want the community to know that even after the acquisition, they aren’t going anywhere. It’s a long process, but we’re all in this together. They’re in it for the long haul and they are part of our community. The main idea for the future is that the Metroparks can’t do this alone – they need community engagement, private partnerships for fundraising, and help generating excitement. Fundraising will be an especially important initiative for the future, and they want to increase programming for the community (but that takes money and volunteers).

One really interesting thing I learned is about how the Metroparks measures visitation. Growth of visitors isn’t specifically in their marketing plan, but it is obviously an objective of theirs. They are actually able to count cars in parking lots with tracking meters at the entrance/exit. They again reiterated that safety and cleanliness are their two most important marketing messages, and their focus is on engagement with the community.

Having a strong lakefront means so much to a city like ours. It means greater health benefits (with exercise and recreation availability), a sense of community and togetherness, as well as bringing more businesses to the lakefront. It’s about revitalizing the city, making it thrive, and connecting the local communities so they can embrace the lakefront for all that it has to offer.

I had such a great time at this event, and learned so much about how amazing and lucky we are here in Cleveland to have the Cleveland Metroparks. It is an incredibly unique asset and we should be very thankful!

I encourage you to help support our Emerald Necklace in any way that you can, and if nothing else, go out and enjoy the parks! I’d also highly recommend checking out the opportunities within the Cleveland AMA chapter – especially if you are in the marketing industry.

Thank you to Amanda for the opportunity to guest post and share about this great event!

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