Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 2, 2014

Commissioners to decide festival fees

By BRIAN McGILLIVARY bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners may finally put the issue of festival fees to rest with a compromise that’s not likely satisfy everyone — or many at all.

Commissioners will consider a fee schedule that would raise the price for a standard, four-day festival that serves alcohol from $1,200 in 2013 to $2,700 this year. The proposal received unanimous approval among a committee of three commissioners who are reviewing the city’s park use policy, despite objections from some residents that the proposed fees remain too low.

Commissioners decided to boost fees as a way to address some residents’ concerns about the increasing frequency of local festivals on city-owned land, particularly at the Open Space during peak summer months.

Festival organizers protested, and object to getting lumped into one basket and the absence of any incentives to keep their events small. But they lack much enthusiasm for raising more objections when commissioners meet Monday at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center.

“I’m going to try and attend Monday’s meeting, but part of me believes any participation we do doesn’t seem to have much impact,” said Cindy Ruzak, an organizer for the Maritime Heritage Alliance Schooner Festival.

The new fee schedule charges promoters $1,000 for the first day and $500 for each subsequent day, up from $400 and $100 respectively. The city would charge an additional $350 for each day that alcohol is served. Committee members also eliminated a 50 percent discount for events organized by nonprofit organizations.

“I’m disappointed they are treating everyone the same,” said Carol Lewis, who organized the first Taste of Traverse City in 2013. “I had one section of the Open Space, operate one day, and had no complaints. Yet I am clumped with everybody else with increased fees and limited growth potential.”

Most commissioners have said the previous fee structure was too low. But they didn’t like another proposal to bump fees up to $9,000 for a typical festival. Not everyone is a fan of the compromise, though.

“The daily fee increases is still quite dramatic and I don’t want to price people out of the market,” said Commissioner Jeanine Easterday. “And I’m a little bit concerned about eliminating the difference between (for)profits and nonprofits.”

Commissioner Ross Richardson, who chaired the festival committee, said there is no difference in the cost to the city for a nonprofit festival compared to a for-profit event, so it seemed fair to charge the same.

The fee increase will push organizers to change the way the Schooner Festival operates in an effort to eliminate the park fee, Ruzak said.

“We’re too small an organization to try and come up with thousands of dollars just to put a boat at Clinch Park Marina,” Ruzak said. “We’re going to try to do it as a low-key event using different venues instead of putting everything in a big tent at the Open Space.”

Ruzak said commissioners should base fees on how much space the event uses. That would provide an incentive to keep events compacted and make the space more affordable for start-up events and nonprofits.

Lewis said it’s a misconception that promoters are “walking away with boat loads of money.” She lost money in her first year and expects it to take a couple of years just to break even.

“Paying by size makes sense,” Lewis said. “The bigger I get, the more I would have resources to pay for additional space.”

Richardson said the committee considered a space-based charge, but they didn’t want to make the policy overly complicated.

“We wanted to keep it simple,” he said.