Looking back at Carmel Christkindlmarkt 2017, plans for 2018

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CARMEL, Ind.— Officials in Carmel look back at the maiden Christkindlmarkt and call it an overwhelming success. An estimated 150,000 people attended during the six-weeks it was open, and spent roughly $1.2 million according to early projections.

“Fantastic,” said Carmel City Councilor Jeff Worrell, “All the feedback from people who attended were really pleased with the concept, the idea of something like this being held in Carmel. I received glowing reviews.”

Ask around, and most everyone will point you in the direction of Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard as the mastermind of the marketplace. He says he was inspired by the Christkindlmarkts he saw while traveling in Germany with his family.

“You know we do a lot of things in the summer and fall and the spring to get people out in Carmel, but we weren’t doing much in the winter” said Brainard.

So in April 2017, Carmel’s Corporation Counsel, Doug Haney, drew up the Articles of Incorporation for Carmel Christkindlmarkt, Inc. A non-profit that falls under the umbrella of a 501(c)(3).

When asked how common it is for the City to create a non-profit, Brainard replied: “non-profits make great partners for cities. In Indianapolis and other cities throughout the country have arrangements like this,” Brainard explained, citing Carmel’s partnership with the Rotary Club and the non-profit behind Carmelfest.

Arts Grants Program:

Arts-based non-profits are eligible for grant money through Carmel’s Arts Grants Program. Each November, first round applications open and then close by mid-December. The mayor then decides which groups receive money and how much. According to Carmel City Code, the mayor has sole discretion over the Arts Grants finances.

At the start of 2017 there was $1,141,412 in the Arts Grants Program.

By January 5, 2017, Mayor Brainard gave out more than 75-percent of the funds, with the largest three grants of more than $200,000 each going to the Actors Theatre of Indiana, Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre and the Carmel Symphony.

A few months later, Brainard distributed $220,000 grant to the nascent Carmel Christkindlmarkt, Inc.—an amount which tied the Actors Theatre of Indiana as the largest arts grant award in 2017.

The Carmel City Council approved an additional $200,000 in funds to CarmelChristkindlmarkt, Inc. in August. The money came from the budgets of several city departments; bringing the market’s total nest egg to $420,000.

“In essence, the best way to put it is that it was a startup year and there’s a lot of additional expenses that first year,” Brainard explained.

The CEO and Market Master of Carmel Christkindlmarkt, Inc. took home a six-figure salary as she planned the authentic German Christmas market. She traveled overseas to German to shop and purchase handcrafted goods to sell in the traditional huts that surrounded the ice skating rink.

Murphy said the initial grant money covered the purchase of products from Germany, paid for employees that operated the 19 huts run by Carmel Christkindlmarkt, Inc., as well as decorations for the shelving and marketplace operations.

Local and outside vendors operated the remaining food, drink and craft huts. According to Murphy, each outside vendor signed a contract where 20-percent of their proceeds went back to the Christkindlmarkt to help the marketplace eventually become self-sufficient.. When that would be, Murphy wouldn’t say.

All of the revenue from sales of food, drink and gifts went back to the non-profit, not the City.

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City Involvement:

When asked if the City Council was aware that Carmel Christkindlmarkt Inc. purchased so much of the products and gifts sold at the market, City Council member Jeff Worrell said the chamber was “very concerned” by the lack of participation by local vendors:

“But of course, you know, finding a local vendor who makes a cuckoo clock is pretty hard to do in Carmel” Worrell added in a phone interview.

Sue Finkam, City Council member from Carmel’s Northeast region, said the feedback she received was positive for the most part with “mixed feedback” about experience.

“We are concerned about overall cost and the fact it seemed to overwhelm city operations while it was open,” Finkman said in a phone interview.

Brainard said Carmel even paid for some of the initial infrastructure that made the Christmas market possible, like additional paving, underground electrical and water hookups.

The City received a $23,500 bill for “data cabling” for a project billed as “Carmel Christkindl Market” and a $33,500 bill for “Underground conduit work” for a project by the same name.

Carmel’s street department employees assembled the huts that had been purchased by the non-profit. Those huts will then be stored in spare city storage space.

According to a budget provided in its initial grant application, the non-profit’s sole startup money came from Carmel’s Arts Grants Program and the additional influx of cash from the City Council.

Brainard says the City’s involvement is typical for a private-public partnership, claiming non-profits can often run events and organizations better than the city could.

“Absolutely the city was involved,” said Brainard “it was a private-public partnership between the not for profit that actually puts on the market and the city’s Redevelopment Commission whose goal it is to bring people out to the downtown area and see development.”

Looking to 2018:

Plans are already in the works to start the 2018 Carmel Christkindlmarkt.

The non-profit’s board members say they’re already taking in feedback about food, drink and crowds into consideration as they look at pursuing new vendors and even potentially expanding.

“When you look at the Center Green here, we basically used a little over half of the land that’s available here and we lined 40 huts around the ice rink,” said Dan McFeely, President of the Board for Carmel Christkindlmarkt, Inc.

“Based on what we’ve been told is, people loved it, they wanted more things to shop for, they wanted more places to get their food and their wine and their German beer,” McFeely says they’ve heard the messages loud and clear and will factor all that in for the next marketplace.

Details about potential expansion are still hush-hush according Market Master Maria Murphy who said she didn’t want to spoil any surprises for patrons.

“There’s potential for expansion, there’s potential for adding more interactive things” Murphy added.

This year, Murphy’s husband will serve as Chief Operating Officer for a $40,000 salary paid for by the non-profit, but the anticipated total amount in grants for the upcoming market from the City of Carmel remain unclear.

There’s a $125,000 line item in the 2018 budget, outside of the Arts Grants Program, dedicated to the market. Brainard says the appropriation has been made but the money has not yet been sent out.

“Now we have the data to show vendors from Germany how many people came. I hope that the not-for-profit is able to scale back the number of huts they have to operate, and the amount of inventory they have to buy to operate the huts,” said Brainard, “We know some of the Christkindlmarks in German have been going for 700 years—we don’t want to predict that yet, but I think it will be a great tradition for Carmel.

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