Congratulations to the Xerox Rochester International for a 13th successful year. It’s a great event and it’s wonderful to see downtown alive with music and people. But that doesn’t mean the festival should get a pass from public scrutiny.
1. Does Jazz Fest still need public money?
The city gives the festival $175,000 to underwrite free shows. The city also provides $68,000 in police services and equipment rental. At last check, Monroe County gives the festival $75,000.
The festival also makes money from ticket sales, food and beer vendors and sponsorships.
We simply don’t know if Jazz Festival could be put on without these funds. Why? This is a for-profit event, meaning the promoters don’t have to open their books. We don’t get to see how much Marc Iacona and John Nugent are earning. We don’t get to see their revenue and expenses.
When I last asked this question, then-Mayor Tom Richards told me he didn’t care how much money the festival makes, because it’s a great event. Iacona and Nugent said they’re not getting rich. They also said the quality of the event would suffer if the public funds were removed or reduced.
Open the books and let the public judge those statements.
2. Is the Jazz Fest subsidy fair?
The Jazz Festival is not Rochester’s largest festival. The festival claims it attracted 196,000 people in 2014 – a laughable 1,000 more people than last year so they can say they broke a record.
Crowd estimation is not an exact science. But if you believe the numbers, Corn Hill attracts 200,000 to 250,000. Park Avenue attracts 200,000. Lilac attracts more than 500,000. I highly doubt these festivals gets the same per-person level of tax dollar support. All of these festivals are nonprofit events.
Smaller festivals also do not get the same level of per-person taxpayer support. East End Festival, which is for-profit, gets zero tax dollars. The nonprofit Fringe Fest, which attracted 50,000 people, only gets $20,000 from the city and has to pay for its own police coverage.
Meanwhile, this month City Council approved $45,000 for a three-day concert series at Martin Luther King Square that’s expected to draw only 6,000 maximum over the entire series. Police services will be free to the promoter. There are very legitimate questions about festival favoritism.
You may argue the Jazz Festival has a bigger return on investment than other festivals. That may or may not be true. No one has ever done a study comparing the festivals. The Visitors Association claims the Jazz Festival has a $12 million impact, but I’d like to see a breakdown. Even if Jazz has a huge economic impact, we still don’t know how much of that cash goes directly to the for-profit festival. More importantly, is return on investment the criteria for festival support? Shouldn’t that be a public conversation?
3. Who gets free tickets?
I’ve filed a Freedom of Information request with the city and county to find out if they got any free tickets as part of their sponsorship arrangement. If so, it’s important to find out who got these tickets. That would lead to the question of whether public officials are influenced to support the festival by this perk.
4. Why aren’t state liquor laws followed during the Jazz Festival?
During the Jazz Festival, open containers are all over the East End, even past the barriers set up. People are allowed to leave bars with their drinks, which I’m pretty sure is against the law. Police officers admitted to me they look the other way during Jazz Festival. I’ve asked the State Liquor Authority for all information regarding festival permits and the coverage area for open containers.
During other festivals, bars, restaurants and festival organizers have to follow strict rules. Try walking down Park Avenue with a beer can of during this year’s festival and see what happens. Why aren’t rules followed during Jazz?
5. Why is the Jazz Festival allowed to overcrowd Gibbs Street?
“Jazz Street” is one big party during the festival. But it’s not a safe party. People with wheelchairs and strollers struggled to get down the street. Some needed police escorts. Police officers have told me they’re very worried anytime someone needs help in that crowd.
Also, the layout of the Chestnut Stage lends itself to big-time overcrowding. Beer sales are a barrier to the south. There’s a barrier erected to the west. The Jazz Street stage is a natural barrier to the east, as the sound from the two stages compete.
In summary, it’s way past time for Jazz Festival to face the music. I’m not sure other media will ask these questions, as the festival is sponsored by 13WHAM (which was not happy I asked these questions in 2012), the Democrat and Chronicle and WXXI.
I’ll keep you posted on what I find out.
Links of the Day:
– Check out the latest list of Rochester’s largest employers. Kodak is #13.
– This is horrific. Refugees are being terrorized in Rochester.
– Wegmans flexible packaging for sunscreen causes concern.
– Cut score madness on the New York Common Core exams. You only needed to get 30 out of 84 points to pass one of the tests.
– Syracuse newspaper questions the Bills’ need for a new stadium.
– What’s next or Internet TV now that Aereo has been defeated?
Tweets of the day:
Consider, if its ok to go pro out of HS in hockey, baseball, golf and tennis, why not NBA and NFL? College system exploitation is answer
— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) June 29, 2014
In press release @NYGovCuomo boasts state helped grow # of "tourism" jobs to 833K. Doesn't mention avg. salary for these jobs: $21,600.
— Dave McKinley (@DaveMcKinley2) June 29, 2014