Special events program on upswing?

Posted: April 8, 2014

The Winchester Star

Dario Savarese (left) of Full Circle Marketing and Jane Danchisen Pittman (right), associate vice president for alumni affairs at Shenandoah University, teamed up to promote OctoBEER Fest in fall 2013. The event benefited Big Brothers Big Sisters of Winchester, Frederick and Clarke Counties, which was represented by Executive Director Juli Ferrell. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
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WINCHESTER — The city’s special events program in Old Town is projected to make a financial turnaround this year.

At their meeting Thursday, members of the Old Town Development Board (OTDB) unanimously approved the event schedule for 2014, but split on endorsing the budget for the program, passing it by a 5-4 vote.

The special events spending plan developed by Dario Savarese of Full Circle Marketing, the city-based firm contracted to spearhead the program, projects $123,750 in operating expenditures and $146,350 in revenues for a $22,600 operating surplus. That’s a big turnaround from the $25,326.75 operating loss reported in 2013, the program’s first year.

But the operating expenses aren’t the only costs tied to the program. Downtown Manager Jennifer Bell said $42,000, or 60 percent of Full Circle’s retainer (the company is doing other work for Old Town), should be charged to the special events program.

That leaves the program $19,400 in the red, and that imbalance and some unanswered questions bothered at least one OTDB member.

“I’m supportive of the events,” said board member Cory Garman, who along with Terry Bohan, Carroll “Beau” Correll Jr. and Rick McClendon voted against approving the budget. “In light of our responsibility on behalf of the stakeholders in Old Town, I felt we needed a little more information.

“I need further explanation, particularly in the way that the projected revenue doesn’t quite cover the expenses.”

Garman said he wanted to know more about the $93,400 in sponsorships that were reported to have been pledged already for this year’s events, up from $71,300 all of last year. Savarese, normally a fixture at the meetings, had other business appointments and was unable to attend.

He said he also doesn’t have a firm understanding of the terms of Full Circle’s contract with the city.

“There’s a lot of questions about who’s in charge,” Garman said. “I think we need to really identify what our contractual obligations are and what his are.”

Late-season revenue

Savarese said Friday that the budget he submitted includes only the sponsorships pledged by more than 30 companies so far. He’s had discussions with other businesses he thinks might provide their to support but didn’t include any projected sponsorships in his figures.

The sponsorships are critical to the financial success of the events. While rain or heat might affect ticket sales, sponsorship dollars are weatherproof.

The spending plan approved by the board has most of the early events on the special events calendar at or near break-even. A $25,805 surplus is projected for the last two major events, September’s Downtown Tailgate and October’s OctoBEER Fest.

Bohan expressed concern at the OTDB meeting about the program’s dependence on particularly the OctoBEER Fest to show a positive cash flow.

“If you look at OctoBEER Fest, that’s virtually all of the surplus,” he said. “We’re putting all our eggs in that basket.”

Savarese, however, said he doesn’t share those concerns.

“We’re getting good corporate support, and I think there’s more to come,” he said. “And I’ve always tried to overproject on some expenses and underproject on some revenues. I’ve tried to take a reasonable, conservative approach to this.

“The only thing I think that can cause us to be unsuccessful is if we get some really horrific weather that knocks everything out.”

For events that feature musical acts, Savarese said he expects the pavilion under construction at the Taylor Hotel property to be the primary venue. The Friday Night Live concerts, which last year featured bands in two locations, will have a single stage this year.

He said he’s working with the Shenandoah Arts Council to try to arrange an arts market near the Loudoun Street Mall’s splash pad during multiple events, and street performers will be prominent.

“We’ll probably have one group of bands,” he said, “with a lot of other performing artists up and down the mall.

“My goal is to try to get people to enjoy the pedestrian walking mall and the surrounding area. Part of the (Old Town) branding piece is to let people know about the other offerings.”

The success of the special events program, Savarese said, isn’t limited to the money made by the events themselves. The programs aim to increase sales at downtown restaurants and stores, which lead to more sales and meals tax revenues and parking fees for the city.

Those revenues, he noted, aren’t part of the budget but do enhance the city’s bottom line.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com