COLUMBIA — With what would be a one-time funding request of $100,000 from the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Roots ’N Blues ’N BBQ Festival appears just one City Council approval vote away from returning this fall.
“This would be precedent-setting,” said Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This is also what we consider a very unusual event in terms of its impact on the community, impact on the community’s reputation. It’s an iconic event.”
On Monday, Richard King, owner of The Blue Note, and Terry Woodruff and Steve Sweitzer of the advertising agency Woodruff Sweitzer asked the Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board to help finance the festival’s return. The board, on a 10-0 vote, recommended the City Council approve the funding request.
Steiner expects the request will have its first City Council reading on Feb. 18, with a public hearing and vote scheduled for March 3.
“If we receive the $100,000 funding, we will be able to announce the event,” Woodruff said. “We’re hopeful. We think it’s a fantastic event for Columbia. There are no other events that bring in that number of people.”
The format of the festival, if it were to occur, would be similar to last year’s with three stages downtown, Woodruff said.
Woodruff also said the organizers plan to again make the event free to the public. The festival should occur during the first weekend of October, Woodruff said, avoiding MU home football games and the Festival of the Arts in September.
“We do have a couple surprises that, if we’re able to announce, we’d be very excited about,” Woodruff said.
The $100,000 would come from the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s unreserved fund balance, Steiner said, which she estimated totals about $790,000. Yearly revenues that remain unspent get placed into the unreserved fund, she said.
Steiner said remodeling of the visitor bureau’s Thomas G. Walton Building on S. Providence Road could cost $250,000, leaving around $440,000 in the fund if the City Council were to approve the request for the festival.
She also said the Convention and Visitors Bureau likes to keep about $150,000 in the fund at all times.
Thumper Entertainment, a limited liability company operated by Woodruff, King and Sweitzer, is in charge of the festival this year and would receive the money. The company formed last fall and helped run the inaugural Roots ‘N Blues ‘N BBQ Festival last year.
Steiner also said the request would be granted only this year. Festival organizers would have been unable to receive such a large amount from the Convention and Visitors Bureau festival and event fund, Steiner said, because the fund is capped at $15,000 per event.
Since the festival is so young, Woodruff said, festival organizers have had a tough time reaching agreements with national and regional sponsors.
“Second-year festivals are difficult to get national sponsor support; that typically comes with year three, year five festivals,” Woodruff said. “So we think this one-time funding request would get us over the hump where we think we could be able to garner national sponsorship in year three.”
Woodruff said sponsors look for consistent management teams and consistent crowds at festivals, making a repeat festival performance crucial for future sponsorship.
“The national sponsors that we have talked to have said, ‘We need to see this through to make sure the first year wasn’t an anomaly.’”
Last year, Boone County National Bank put on the festival as a gift to the city and to its customers as part of the bank’s 150th anniversary.
“There was no reason to market the event outside of a 60-mile area,” Woodruff said. “This year, we’re not operating under that charge. We can and will, if we’re fortunate to bring this thing back, market it regionally and nationally.”
Steiner said the festival’s success last year led the board to recommend that the City Council approve $100,000 in funding. “It was an enormous success,” she said. “It has the potential to truly put us on the map.”
She also said that the Convention and Visitors Bureau believes the number of people coming to the festival will eventually fill every hotel room in the city.
Almost 70,000 people attended the festival as Columbia felt a $6 million impact, and the state of Missouri received $8 million in total, according to a study completed by James Kaufman, an agricultural economics project director at MU.
Currently, organizers have committed about $60,000 to this year’s festival, Woodruff said, and hope to have about $200,000 before the festival this fall. Festival organizers, however, haven’t started to search for stage sponsors, barbecue village sponsors or beverage sponsors, which would bring in additional revenue.
In September, the City Council approved $10,000 for the festival’s return.
“We’re already giving the $10,000, then I support the use of $100,000,” said Mayor Darwin Hindman. “I think it would be a very good investment for the city.”
It’s not clear whether the festival could go on this year without approval of the $100,000 from City Council. “It would be difficult,” Woodruff said. “There are currently no backup measures in place. It’s a large financial gap.”
Hindman said he hopes for City Council support.
“It brought all kinds of people to town and attention to town,” he said. “As Columbia develops a reputation for festivals and fun – that’s to everybody’s advantage.”