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