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Mayor Lovely Warren asked City Council to approve funding for the Xerox Rochester International Jazz festival at the same level as in recent years. That amounts to $243,000, including the cost of police coverage.

As we learned last year, that money also includes 120 tickets to headliner shows and 20 VIP club passes. The city kept no record of where those tickets went, but council members admitted they snagged a bunch.

I asked a city spokesperson if the way the city handles the distribution of free tickets will change this year. I haven’t gotten a response. It’s very possible that when council members vote on festival funding this month, they know they’ll be getting a mega-perk in return.

But that’s not the only issue with this funding.  As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, Jazz is a for-profit festival. For all we know, the promoters are lining their pockets with this city money. Former Mayor Tom Richards told me he doesn’t care if they’re making millions off the festival, because it is such a great event. If they’re making millions, which they say they’re not, why should these guys get any money from the city? Other festivals, which are non-profit, don’t get anywhere near the same level of funding and the city makes them pay for police coverage. Perhaps their festivals would grow as big as Jazz with similar support.

Because Jazz is for-profit, the festival’s books are closed. But in the city’s contract with the festival, the promoters are required to “provide the City with an after-report of the festival including narrative, detailed attendance inclusive of demographics, and press clippings.”

I filed an open records request for this report, as well as any other city document about the festival’s impact over the years 2013 and 2104. The only document was the one produced by the Jazz Festival. That means the city has not undertaken any recent independent analysis of its investment.

The Jazz Festival’s report, which reads like a press release, says the 2014 Jazz Festival attracted 196,000 people, conveniently 1,000 more than the previous year, so the festival could say it broke a record. The report says, ‘The average patron spent $250.” It also says the festival adds $10 million every year to the local economy.

The report notes extensive positive press in local media, which has been a huge reason why this event has avoided scrutiny for more than a decade. The report notes the festival has a ton of sponsorships, which again calls into question why tax dollars are needed.



This document contains no methodology for attendance or economic impact. We have no way of knowing how the “average patron” is defined and whether they actually spend $250 each. What percentage of attendees are from out of town? They’re the ones bringing in new money. The rest of us would have found another way to be entertained and spend money for those two weekends.

(Take a look at this Rochester PGA economic impact report. Greater Rochester Enterprise isn’t independent when it comes to recruiting these events, but at least this document contains methodology. It also contains estimated revenue figures for the PGA. Jazz Fest sales are a mystery.)

The promoters have used the extensive lineup of free shows as a reason for continued public support. When I was on Brother Wease’s program talking about issues surrounding the festival, one of the promoters texted Wease, who read it aloud. It said something along the lines of, “No city money, no free shows.” Even though I’m the only one raising questions, the promoters are making threats. Here’s the thing, if the free shows go away, the people hurt the most are the promoters. The Jazz Fest would be nothing without the free shows, which create the festival’s wonderful street life downtown. Those impressive (perhaps inflated) attendance figures (eclipsed by Lilac, Corn Hill and Park Ave, by the way) would be nothing without the free shows. The promoters are making money on the free shows every time you buy a beer, a T-Shirt and an ice cream. They’re raking in the dollars every time Xerox, Wegmans, RG&E, LiDestri, Rochester Regional Health System and every other sponsor cuts them a check for access to your eyeballs.

It’s politically unfeasible for the mayor, who didn’t create this situation, to take a hard line against Jazz Fest. It’s too popular among citizens, elites and City Hall staffers who get freebies. But in the future, I hope the city takes a good hard look at how it runs all special events to come up with a more equitable process.

Read the Jazz Fest report.


Links of the Day:


Medina will vote on dissolution. It seems to me, town residents enjoy the village and therefore should have to pay for some of the expenses. It’s the same reason Monroe County gives the city more sales tax dollars.

RG&E wants Ginna to shut down.

– A 21-year-old mentally ill homeless man died of hypothermia on a Buffalo street.

“Teaching to the test had remarkable results.”

– Dozens of witnesses have been killed in the Washington, D.C. area for cooperating with police.

– Remember The Snuggery? She’s still in business.

– “We tend not to treat lead-footed drivers with the same disapproval as cyclists who ride through stop signs.”

– Gas is cheap because we don’t pay the true cost of driving.

– Tanning among white, teenage girls is still hugely popular. As a result, skin cancer rates are going up.

Adam Chodak’s son made my day.

16 Responses to Same Old Tune

  1. Ask yourself, “Why do cities compete to have the Olympics held there?”

    It costs a great deal of money to prepare for the Olympics, yet major cities, with knowledgeable financial boards, decide to spend millions to have the Olympics held in their city. I’m sure the local dignitaries also may get a free pass or two to events. So what?

    Maybe the area benefits from all the people attending. Do the hotel workers and restaurant workers complain about the city helping keep JazzFest here? You don’t mention local people `lining their pockets’ because of JazzFest being here. I think that if someone creates something that gives hundreds (possibly thousands) of people a chance to earn more money, it’s not unreasonable for that person to receive some remuneration in return, yet you seem to have a problem with the promoters not working for free. What’s wrong with someone making money? Bartenders and waitresses have good income from the tips; some people offer `bicycle/rickshaw rides that would be working if the crowd wasn’t there.

    • January 11, 2015 at 1:45 pm Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Hey, it’s great everyone makes money on the Jazz Fest.

      The question is whether the city’s money is required for everyone else to make money. We don’t know the answer.

  2. January 11, 2015 at 1:36 pm Orielly responds:

    “It’s politically unfeasible for the mayor, who didn’t create this situation, to take a hard line against Jazz Fest”

    Gee, I expect more from our leaders than having to go along because she didn’t create this situation. Don’t we elect them to do the right thing, to correct what’s wrong, to stand up and oppose when things aren’t right? Politics shouldn’t matter one bit when its wrong its wrong. This is just an excuse for not doing the right thing again. I suspect we wouldn’t see such an excuse given if Maggie Brooks failed to right a perceived wrong.

    And profit is such and ugly word isn’t it? (SARC) Like it or not there are 100s of profit making operations, some owned by very wealthy people, that are given millions of dollars by the taxpayer through various means.. The Wilmots get them all the time, as do Buckingham Properties, Tops, The Buffalo Bills to name a few. But used in conjunction with a profit making Jazz festival they are wrong?

    • I think the term “politically unfeasible” means it will hurt any bid for re-election. What’s right or wrong isn’t the issue.

    • January 12, 2015 at 5:45 pm Orielly responds:

      Whats right or wrong isn’t the issue? It is and should be the only issue. We need all politicians to act on what they or the common man thinks is right … or correct regardless of the political issues. Those leaders should in the end win. Most of the winners of the profile in courage award .. have done this. They are better men and women, for doing it, whether they were re-elected or not.

  3. My thoughts…..you need to spend money to make money. The economy is dependent on money flowing. To that end, I don’t have a big problem with the money being authorized by the city. I applaud your effort to expose the potential for abuse of perks for city officials. The only way to minimize the abuse is to report it. The integrity gene seems to be missing in today’s politicians. Luckily, one thing politicians fear is being caught. Keep reporting.

  4. January 11, 2015 at 2:36 pm Sarah J responds:

    Since we Rochester residents are footing the $243,000+ donation to the Jazz Fest, City Council and the Mayor would go a long way in repairing their PR problems by having a lottery for City residents to disperse those 120 tickets to headliner shows and 20 VIP club passes. Since my tax dollars go toward the Fest, I should have a shot at getting a perk for my largesse. Council can buy their own tickets. Should be easy to set up a web-lottery for interested city property owners to enter.

  5. I believe City employees can not accept gifts more than $25, an amount which could have gone up now. City council members also might not be city “employees.” But the City’s Ofc of Public Integrity should know about the Ethics Commission rules,

  6. January 11, 2015 at 7:35 pm Steve Bathory responds:

    Let’s see: people complain that nothing exciting is going on downtown, and that the city should do something about it.
    The city “doing something” about anything invariably is paid for by the taxpayer, and people complain about that, too. There will always be people who will complain that since they don’t go to any events that they don’t want their tax money used for it in any capacity.
    The Jazz Festival does draw people downtown, and the huge influx of people requires a beefed up police presence in that location.
    The huge influx of people also ends up paying for parking.
    Admittedly, the perks to the mayor’s staff should be eliminated; most of them already make plenty, courtesy of the taxpayers.
    The mayor should also demand a full accounting from the promoters of the Jazz Festival as to the attendance, profits and sales taxes derived from it. Perhaps it has been lacking because the promoters realize that if they are too successful, the city could stop subsidizing the festival.
    Just because certain questionable practices have always been done, doesn’t mean that they should continue.

  7. January 12, 2015 at 8:31 am Jim Webster responds:

    Another Rachel rant about a non-issue. Everyone benefits economically from this event, but the ticket lottery is a great idea, so it won’t happen

  8. January 12, 2015 at 8:41 am John Moriello responds:

    One person’s sacred cow is another person’s hamburger.

    There are people who (understandably) love the RIJF and want to see is continue to prosper — to the point that they turn a blind eye to the obvious question of whether organizers really need so much as a dollar of city money to keep it going at the current high entertainment standards.

    At the other end of the spectrum are the people who don’t care for music or the atmosphere and wonder why the city isn’t spending the money on (pick one or several) putting more cops on the streets, lowering taxes, putting on a Party in the Parks program that isn’t laughably inferior to Buffalo-area efforts, keeping the streets cleaner, tearing down more vacant houses in blighted areas, etc.

    Somewhere in between lies the happy medium between the extremes, and I think Rachel is probably a lot closer to playing it straight down the middle than the other area media (cheerleaders?) have done for the past decade. She’s asking the questions that a responsible media should be asking.

  9. January 13, 2015 at 11:08 am Monkeytoe responds:

    I find it amusing that you are fine (not just fine – consider it a “win” for the mayor) with the City spending significant sums of money (as much or more than they spend on Jazz Fest) for “transgender” operations/treatment, but find this expenditure wrong.

    I understand your point in this article, and even to a large degree agree with it. (Indeed, if the Jazz Fest is a for-profit corp the City spending money for it may be an unconstitutional (State Constitution) gift of public moneys). And, as the Jazz Fest claims to be making millions, why can’t it pay for its own police protection, etc., the way all other events are required to do?

    but, I find it amusing that you are worried about the public fisc here, when tens of thousands of citizens benefit from the gov’t money spent (free concerts, etc.), but think it perfectly appropriate to spend the same or more money to help a few individuals get elective surgery/treatment.

  10. I think it comes down to how much the Jazz Fest makes. Right now the Jazz Fest is a great event that brings people from around the country downtown and lures scared suburbanites into “scary downtown”. The event is a great marketing tool for the city and a quality of life issue. How much does the city spend on Rec Centers or other quality of life causes? This is one of those things people move to the city for, for events like this.

    The major unsolvable issue are the ticket kickbacks, the city shouldn’t accept them. It’s clearly a gift or tip and way in excess of what city hall allows it’s employees to accept. I believe city ethics even says it’s doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong, it’s perception. This should have stopped years ago.

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