New downtown festival means less city funding for two others

Nathan Baker • Aug 11, 2017 at 11:37 PM

With vendors unfolding canopies four stories below their meeting room in the King’s Centre, members of the Johnson City Development Authority approved $5,000 for the Little Chicago Downtown Music and Arts Festival hours before the event’s start.

“We got the request for funding from Little Chicago in January, but the funds didn’t come from the city until July, at the start of their fiscal year,” Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership Downtown Development Director Dianna Cantler, a liaison to the board, told members Friday morning. “That’s why we’re discussing it the day of.”

A new request for funding from the organizers of Little Chicago, now in its second year, meant a new split of the $15,000 the City Commission sends to the JCDA for downtown festivals.

Traditionally, the city spent $15,000 on two festivals in the downtown streets: $10,000 for the Blue Plum Festival in early June and $5,000 for the Umoja Festival in September. With the third festival in the mix, the JCDA board approved $7,000 for Blue Plum 2018, $5,000 for Little Chicago and $3,000 for this year’s Umoja.

Because Blue Plum is held shortly before the end of the city’s fiscal year, which ends in June, it received $10,000 this calendar year and will get the $7,000 in 2018.

The board decided the Blue Plum Organization should get the largest portion because the group also puts on the Johnson City Christmas Parade. Cantler, who is not a voting member of the JCDA but provides assistance and logistical support, is on the board of the Blue Plum Organization.

In its request to the JCDA, Cantler said the Blue Plum Organization asked for the $10,000 it received in previous years, but that would only leave $5,000 to be split between the other two groups.

Umoja’s organizers have yet to submit a request for funding, but the board set aside $3,000 for the festival assuming they would soon.

To help streamline that process, JCDA members also approved a festival financial assistance request form, to be filled out before organizations receive funding.

The form asks for the date, time and location of events seeking money and also a recap of the previous year and expectation for the upcoming year, including attendance numbers, ticket prices, marketing plans and estimated economic impacts.

With funding decreases for two longstanding city festivals, board member Paul Williamson asked whether the JCDA could ask the City Commission for more money next year or provide supplemental funds from its own budget.

The JCDA could add more into the festival funding pot, and is contributing $1,000 to the Geico Hot Bike Tour, a motorcycle event passing through the city from Sept. 8-10.

Reagan Streetman, the JCDA’s newly hired event and marketing coordinator, said she intends to spend some time learning about the board’s processes and the established events, then she will begin to assess the festivals’ needs and wants.

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