News and Tribune

July 23, 2013

Popular Jeffersonville festival under financial scrutiny

Officials looking to minimize costs for blues and barbecue event

By BRADEN LAMMERS
braden.lammers@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — If a funding gap cannot be covered, one of Jeffersonville’s more popular events might be in jeopardy.

The numbers are in for this year’s Smokin’ on the River BBQ, Blues and Brews festival, and they don’t look good for the city. According to Sara Schutz, director of special events and RiverStage for Jeffersonville’s Parks Department, the festival cost the city $33,985. Combined with last year’s event, the city has lost more than $68,000 the past two years.

It is the fifth time Jeffersonville has hosted the two-day festival, which has become one of the largest draws for the RiverStage and Jeffersonville’s riverfront. Schutz also said previously that it has become the second-largest barbecue festival in the state of Indiana.

While the interest in the event is unquestioned, the cost it takes to host the barbecue festival each year is under scrutiny.

“I think the question is, are we comfortable losing $34,000 on the event?” asked Parks Authority President Ed Zastawny after the numbers were presented on Monday.

Despite the loss to Jeffersonville, the fifth annual event cost the city less than it did to put on last year’s Smokin’ on the River festival, which incurred a loss of $34,626.

More than 50 professional barbecue teams and 10 backyard amateur teams competed in the competition and generated $10,952 in entry fees. Attendance figures were also the highest in the five years of the event.

“As far as our attendance I think it was, by far, our best year,” Schutz said.

Weather helped to draw in the record crowds, but for the city the financial loss is still a concern.

“I think there’s going to come a point where we’re going to have to do something,” said Parks Authority Board Member Connie Sellers said. “We cannot keep going in the red on everything, we’re going to have to do something to start bringing in money to cover these expenses.”

While canceling the event is unlikely, if the funding gap is not covered, other considerations like charging a fee for attendees might move forward.

But offering the event for free is what sets it apart, Schutz said.

“We’re unique in the fact that it’s free,” she said. “Of course, we want to try and keep everything we do down at the RiverStage free.”

The first area Schutz said the parks department will look at is covering the costs by seeking additional sponsors.

“I think fundraising is something we really have to work on,” she said.

Schutz added that she was approached at this year’s event that a potential sponsor may be willing to pay $25,000 toward the event.



ANCHORS AWEIGH

Another park program held at the Jeffersonville RiverStage is costing the city money.

The Anchors Aweigh programs, fitness programs held throughout the week at Jeffersonville’s RiverStage, have cost the city about $6,750. The expenses are paid out of the city’s gaming fund.

However, Schutz said the programs combined are averaging attendance of more than 200 people each week.

But, again, offering the programs for free was a concern for the parks authority members.

“We’re going to have to get in this mindset where we can’t do everything for free,” Sellers said. “There’s going to have to be charges.”

While no decision was made on what to do with the Anchors Aweigh program, Zastawny agreed that now is the time to talk about whether or not the city wants to continue the program, or charge for the programs next year.



MARINA DESIGN PRESENTED

A redesign of Jeffersonville’s marina reconstruction project was presented to the parks authority Monday.

Jorge Lanz, president of Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz Inc., and Josh Darby, project engineer with the firm, offered up the revised plans that included 51 stationary wooden docks, that would be single slips, angled about 15 degrees and includes a a deflecting pier that extends out into the Ohio River, which would also serve as a fishing pier for the public.

The project is subject to approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lanz said. Those permits for the project have been submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“That dictates the entire schedule for this project,” he said of the corps permit approval. “I know the mayor is anxious to get it under construction for next year, we think that’s doable.”

At the request of the corps, Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz combined the marina request with a second request the engineering firm had already submitted. The request would allow the city to move the RiverStage slightly downstream to center it with the Terrace Lawn. A large screen requested on the back of the RiverStage has been removed from that request.

Questions again persisted about the viability of repairing and making the more than 50 slips available to new boaters.

“Has there been an economic fiscal study done about this to see if we can get it filled?” Sellers asked. “Because I think the worst thing we could do is have [these] docks and not get them filled,” she said.

Sellers also offered her concerns about what the city will charge the boat owners to park their boats in Jeffersonville.

“We do know [right now] we are the cheapest game in town,” said Jeffersonville Parks Director Paul Northam.

He added that 32 slips are occupied now and a total of 51 slips will be available. Northam added there are people that are on a waiting list for the docks despite having area where they could build a dock now; however, many do not want to build their own dock.