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Chad Swiatecki is a 20-year journalist who relocated to Austin from his home state of Michigan in 2008. He most enjoys covering the intersection of arts, business and local/state politics. He has written for Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Daily News, Texas Monthly, Austin American-Statesman and many other regional and national outlets.
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No ACL Fest means delays to parks projects, millions lost for parks foundation
Improvement projects at parks throughout the city will be delayed for up to 18 months as a result of the official cancellation of the Austin City Limits Festival.
Organizers of the two-weekend event, which was set to take place in October in Zilker Park, announced Wednesday that concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible to responsibly move forward.
The cancellation impacts parks projects because each year promoter C3 Presents contributes millions of dollars to the nonprofit Austin Parks Foundation, which uses that money to make improvements to Austin’s many neighborhood, district and metro parks.
Launched in 2002, ACL Fest typically draws 75,000 people a day over six days total, and has become one of the largest draws for local tourism and hotel bookings each year. Since formalizing its agreement with the parks foundation, C3 has contributed $41 million over 14 years toward parks projects in Austin.
Colin Wallis, CEO of the parks foundation, said roughly half of the group’s $8 million budget this year came from C3 Presents via ticket revenue from ACL Fest.
“It’s a big loss, and like lots of people are doing in financially tough times we’ll do our best to manage. We see the revenue the first part of the year from the previous year’s festival, but we account for it in the calendar year, so it’ll be a big hit this year,” he said. “We’re thinking about our budgeting and what our economic reality looks like and will have to make hard decisions like everybody else.”
The foundation had cut back its operations budget before Wednesday’s announcement but retained its existing staffing by securing a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the federal government. That funding ends soon, and future employment decisions still need to be made.
With the ACL Fest revenue for the next budget cycle gone, Wallis said the foundation will soon start coordinating with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department to determine what planned improvement projects will be put on hold, and how they can be rescheduled.
“There’s always a way longer list than we have money for. This year hopefully we’ll figure out a way to recover some of that revenue from donors and friends and we’ll take stock at the end of this year to see how to proceed in terms of capital projects.”
The only budgetary revenue the city receives from C3 for using Zilker Park is $100,000, which is the maximum amount that can be imposed for parks usage based on city ordinances covering events fees. In addition, C3 also reimburses the city for public safety, resource management and other expenses incurred by the festival, with that total reaching $2.4 million for the 2019 edition of the event. Of that, PARD received $1.6 million, with $500,000 for Austin Police Department presence outside the festival, $110,000 to the Austin Fire Department, $60,000 for emergency medical services, $30,000 for transportation fees, and $20,000 for health permitting.
ACL Fest has also become a significant contributor to the local economy, with the 2019 festival creating an economic impact estimated at $291 million, an increase of $27 million from the 2018 event.
In February the Parks and Recreation Board brought Wallis and PARD’s sales and events manager, Jason Maurer, in for a discussion about C3’s contract with the city, to see whether there was a way to derive more revenue or community benefits from the festival.
Board Member Rich DePalma said that discussion helped the public and other board members better understand the nature of the city’s agreement with the company.
“I think people felt pretty good about what they heard and understood better after all that we discussed,” he said. “It was important to get transparency on what was going to the foundation compared to what was going into the parks department directly.”
Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.
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