BBQ officials ask Tryon for break on Harmon Field use fees

Published 7:10 pm Thursday, March 22, 2012

Blue Ridge BBQ and Music Festival officials said they are trying to cut every cost to ensure the festival continues and have asked Tryon to allow the festival to pay Harmon Field use fees partly through a tiered payment system based on attendance.
The contract between Tryon and the Foothills Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the BBQ festival, ended last November, and the new contract is being negotiated. The festival currently pays the town a use fee for 50 cents per attendee and also reimburses the town for employee time and utility use. The chamber is asking that the lease payment from admissions change to 25 cents per attendee for the first 6,000 spectators, 50 cents per attendee for 6,001 to 12,000 spectators and to 75 cents per attendee for spectators 12,001 and up.
Tryon Town Council met Tuesday, March 20 and discussed adding the new form of payment to the new contract.
Foothills Chamber of Commerce Chair Laura Weicker said the BBQ festival is in its 18th year and brings thousands of people annually to the area, which promotes the Town of Tryon and puts tourism money in the pockets of hotels, inns, retail stores and grocery stores.
“Since 1999, from the proceeds of the BBQ festival, the Chamber Foundation has awarded more than $150,000 to worthy area organizations,” Weicker said. “(Grants of) $31,300 of that total amount have gone to the Town of Tryon for Harmon Field, the fire department and the town itself. In addition, over the last five years, the BBQ festival has paid the Town of Tryon $62,000 for leasing and associated expenses.”
Weicker also said when the chamber board decided in 2010 to cancel the festival, “the public outcry was immense.”
The chamber received comments from tourism-related businesses, area government officials and concerned citizens saying the loss of the festival was a detriment to the entire community, she said.
“Bowing to the pressure, the chamber board reinstituted the event based on the promised public support as well as that of the Town of Tryon,” Weicker said. “To date, nothing in the leasing contract with Harmon Field has changed to help support the festival. We are calling upon your help now.”
The BBQ festival, which will be held this year on June 8 and 9, has seen a decrease in attendance over the last few years. Weicker said in 2007 14,754 people attended, and in 2011 there were 8,644 attendees.
Tryon councilman George Baker said he is a supporter of the festival, having volunteered for 16 years and, with his wife, pledging $2,000 when the festival was in jeopardy. However, he said he thinks the chamber is being disingenuous when talking about revenues. He said he doesn’t think grocery stores benefit from the festival.
“For the town not to recoup its expenses is to me not something I’m willing to consider,” Baker said.
He also said the town doesn’t get to see the financials of the festival until they are long gone and he is not sure the chamber’s proposal is the way to get more attendance.
Interim Tryon Town Manager Joey Davis said if the proposed tiered system had been used last year, it would have meant $1,500 less for the town.
Baker said if they are talking about $1,500, he’d be in favor if the chamber put $750 of that toward more advertising to get more attendance.
Chamber officials said they are not asking not to pay bills, such as employee reimbursements or utilities, only to base the Harmon Field rental on attendance.
The chamber has paid Tryon $62,497.37 over the past five years in reimbursements and payments to Harmon Field from the fees of 50 cents per attendee. Over the last five years, the chamber has reimbursed the Tryon Police Department a total of $22,122.64, Harmon Field staff $2,728.14, water service $789.57, power bills $6,713.02, Harmon Field (attendance) $28,544 and the Tryon Fire Department $1,600, according to data provided by the chamber.
Grants to the town from the Chamber Foundation, which come from BBQ proceeds, have included a total of $31,300, including a $20,000 grant to the town in 2006, a $4,000 grant to Harmon Field in 2008, a $2,500 grant to the Tryon Fire Department in 2009, a $2,800 grant to Tryon in 2009 and a $2,000 grant to the fire department in 2010, according to chamber data.
“We’ve already cut $10,000  from the BBQ budget,” Weicker said. “Every bit helps the festival continue on. We’re asking this to ensure the festival continues.”
Foothills Chamber Executive Director Janet Sciacca also said the festival is an important fundraiser for the chamber as it has allowed the chamber to keep its dues at a lower level than surrounding chambers, making it more affordable to area businesses.
The chamber, Tryon officials and Harmon Field officials must agree on the new contract, which is being proposed as a three-year contract that would be in effect until 2015.
Council asked the chamber to get a recommendation from the Harmon Field Board of Supervisors on the tiered system and to give council time to review the numbers. Council agreed for the chamber to revisit the proposal during council’s April 17 meeting.