Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 17, 2014

Committee: Triple festival fees to cover city costs


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Festival organizers can expect Open Space use fees to triple, and nonprofit groups can forget any special treatment.

A city commission committee met this week to discuss new festival restrictions and appeared to reach a consensus on fees. The new base fee structure would bump the fee for a typical weekend festival that uses four days — including set-up and tear-down — from $700 to $2,500. Nonprofit groups previously paid just $400 for the same time frame.

Organizers for the Maritime Heritage Alliance Schooner Festival said they may have to relocate or downsize their planned September Open Space event if they can't find a sponsor or another organization to share the weekend.

"I'm on a lot of boards and there is a very fine line sometimes between how you define a true nonprofit, so I'm not totally upset with that part," said Cindy Ruzak, an organizer with the Schooner Festival. "But it's very difficult for a small organization to come up with that much money up-front to pay for a small part of the Open Space.

"They are going to drive local people away and the only events they will have are the large, obnoxious ones," she said.

Ruzak said she was hopeful the committee would have adopted a staff recommendation to reduce the fee for events that use a smaller portion of the Open Space. But city Commissioners Ross Richardson and Gary Howe dismissed the idea of a discount. They instead agreed to divide the Open Space into four quadrants and limit festivals usage to two quadrants.

Most festivals already use two quadrants. The exception, the National Cherry Festival, is exempt from the park-use policy, as is the Traverse City Film Festival. Those organizations operate under a contract with the city.

Commissioner Barbara Budros missed the meeting because of a family emergency, so the remaining committee members didn't vote on their proposals. Richardson said Budros left him a phone message about her position, and it appears she agrees with the committee's consensus.

The committee's decisions are recommendations only and still must gain approval of the entire city commission.

Howe said he didn't believe the commission adequately expressed the reason for a fee increase, but the latest proposal of $1,000 for the first day and $500 for each additional day was "fine" with him.

Richardson said the would-be fee increase is to cover basic city costs involved in the festivals.

Commissioners also agreed to change the fee for alcohol use at the Open Space from a one-time fee of $500 to $350 for every day alcohol is sold.

Some residents who attended the meeting want the city to charge even higher fees for Open Space usage.

"It is probably Traverse City's most valuable piece of real estate, and not to realize some revenue from it would be foolish and short-sighted," said resident Adrienne Rossi.

Commissioners also discussed but showed little interest in tackling a proposed citywide noise ordinance primarily aimed at tamping low bass sounds. Howe opposed a new ordinance and Richardson said festival noise seemed to be more of an issue of stage management than sound levels.

But Richardson, who chairs the committee, later said he wants to revisit the noise ordinance question at a future, yet-to-be scheduled committee meeting.