Festival of the Arts says new city fee could price them out before 50th anniversary

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Festival of the Arts in Grand Rapids is kicking off the summer season this weekend.

The festival has been around for 48 years, and it continues to grow. It started in 1970 with just one stage and a handful of food and art tents. Now, it has about 6 stages for performance and 30 art and food trucks taking up one square mile of space in downtown Grand Rapids.

Organizers are excited for this week, but they got some news that put a damper on their vision for the future.  They told FOX 17 News a new fee from the city that will go into effect July 1 could price out their event before they reach their 50th anniversary.

The fee seems small, only 10 cents per person, but when you have an event that attracts 200,000 people in a span of three days that quickly adds up. Festival president Stasia Savage said it would add on an additional $22,000 aside from the fees they already pay the city that add up to $60,000.

Savage said they work with 500 volunteers to put the event on, and a $300,000  budget which they fundraise for year-round. She said an extra $22,000 is a lot to ask of donors. She said they recently got a grant for $3,500 but it doesn't make a huge dent in the $22,000 they will have to hand over to the city.

She said the $60,000 they already pay the city covers everything from permitting for the event, permits for the tents, water, bleachers, chairs, tents, trash cans, and police.

“We are definitely concerned about it being that we are a community event and we rely so much on fundraising from others. The idea of finding out that we might have to pay for people to attend even a small nominal fee like 10 cents is kind of frightening because that means we have to go out and fundraise even more money and frankly in kind of difficult times,” said Savage.

The city said this isn’t a fee to cripple events, in fact the opposite. The Mayor and city commission wanted to find a way to promote more community events in Grand Rapids. This was a way they found to even the playing field for smaller events that don’t have as big of a budget. The city will also be charging commercial events the same type of fee. The goal is to offset costs for smaller festivals and events so more events choose to come to Grand Rapids.

“The commission and the mayor tasked us with finding a way to lower the point of entry for community events. We want to encourage more community events, so we came up with a plan that lowers that entry point for community events or events that are free and open to the public,” said Evette Pittman, the supervisor of special events for Grand Rapids.

Savage said they’ve worked hard to build up their event over the years, and they shouldn’t necessarily have to pay for other events, especially when this fee could break them.

“It’s frightening. That’s a huge chunk of our budget,” said Savage.

Savage has a meeting with the city next week, and is hopeful they can come to an agreement.

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