Brookhaven’s new Convention and Visitors Bureau is set to spend $170,000 on deposits alone to get high-profile music acts for the 2019 Cherry Blossom Festival after city officials acknowledged not getting the mainstream acts they hoped for at this year’s event.
The actual performance fees will vary among musicians, officials say. The festival is scheduled for March 30-31 at Blackburn Park. Officials hope to get bigger names and boost festival attendance from about 25,000 to 40,000.
For the 2018 fest, the City Council approved spending $125,000 to bring in nationally known acts through the booking agency Live Nation. Live Nation agreed to negotiate on behalf of the city for Cherry Blossom Fest music acts for only a $1 fee. Live Nation was able to get country artists Keith Anderson and Craig Morgan to perform at this year’s fest as headliners. Edwin McCain also headlined, as did Grammy-nominee Five for Fighting.
But the council approved the funding in February, only a month before the festival, and CVB members learned at a recent meeting that was not enough time to secure the more mainstream, high-profile acts officials were hoping for with a broader following.
Acts that were among those considered for last year’s fest, but were not able to be secured due to time constraints, included the Gin Blossoms and rock-and-roll icon Joan Jett.
“Last year, because of how city governments work, we were not able to lock in anyone until after the first of the year,” CFO Steve Chapman told the CVB board at its September meeting. “That decreased our options for entertainment.”
Live Nation is again working with the city for $1 to bring in musical acts for next year’s Cherry Blossom Festival, according to city spokesperson Burke Brennan. Live Nation Senior Vice President Rich Levy is the city’s CVB board chair.
An open records request of CVB records show budget line items paid to the artists of the 2018 fest. They include $6,750 to Anderson; $13,500 to McCain; $40,500 to Five for Fighting; and $27,000 to Morgan.
The fest cost about $260,000 this year and is expected to cost approximately the same next year, Brennan said.
Brennan, also a member of the CVB board, said the city wants to build on the kinds of acts that performed last year with broad-based appeal as well as deliver more diversity.
“We can refine our process and have more and better options,” he said of the $170,000 budget. “[This year] we had a narrow window for locking in contracts … and some artists we were pursuing were already spoken for.”
Securing acts earlier also allows more time to promote the musicians, he added.
Last year, the city council budgeted $1 million for the new CVB. Funding for the CVB comes from hotel-motel taxes, including the new revenue stream created in 2017 when the city approved increasing its hotel-motel tax from 5 percent to 8 percent.
Raising the hotel-motel tax was done specifically to fund construction of the Peachtree Creek Greenway. The council recently approved $15 million in revenue bonds backed by the expected hotel-motel tax money to pay for the Greenway’s construction.
The city has estimated the higher tax will add another $130 million a year to its coffers. State law requires half the money go to the city general fund and the other half must be dedicated to tourism and promotion. This new money prompted the city to form its own CVB after years of relying on and paying Discover DeKalb to market the city.
Patty Hansen, project manager for the Cherry Blossom Festival, told the CVB board that attendance at the 2018 fest was estimated at 25,000 over the March 24-25 weekend. The crowds were significant on Saturday, but heavy rains on Sunday kept away the similar numbers. Despite the rain, the fest had its highest attendance in its four-year history, Hansen said.
The city is also in talks with Decatur-based Lenz Marketing to help market the 2019 event, Hansen said. The city is expecting to bring in 40,000 people to the fest next year if there are no weather hiccups, she added.
At the meeting, the CVB board approved paying $100,000 in invoices from Oglethorpe University for advertising. The CVB is cross marketing with the university for such events as theater productions, Alumni Weekend and music concerts.
“All of those things bring people to Brookhaven,” Chapman said.
Sharon Moskowitz, Oglethorpe University Director of Special Events, sits on the CVB board; she abstained from the board vote to pay the Oglethorpe bill of $100,000.
The CVB also voted to pay Discover DeKalb $95,000 for its marketing of the 2018 Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival.
Last year, before the city created its own CVB, Discover DeKalb spent $200,000 advertising the festival, including $45,000 on “digital influencers” to promote the festival on social media and more than $70,000 on out-of-state billboards.
Chapman said the city continues to contract with Discover DeKalb as its “destination marketing organization” to promote the city as a travel destination.
Discover DeKalb also buys ads promoting Brookhaven in Delta Air Line’s Sky Magazine.
Some of the Brookhaven ads in the magazine feature pictures of only city attractions, such as businesses on Dresden Drive.
Other ads in the Sky Magazine, however, notably feature DeKalb County attractions, such as the laser show at Stone Mountain and the Dinosaur Plaza at Fernbank Museum.