Music lovers in the City of Port Philip can breathe a collective sigh of relief with the news that the council have come to their sense and will be going ahead as planned with St Kilda Festival for 2013, after the future of the festival looked particularly grim due to budget blowouts.
Following on from yesterday’s news that the council had done a u-turn on their negotiations with car company Jeep in order to cope with the escalating costs of the St Kilda music event, according to the Port Phillip Review, today local council has confirmed that it will be going ahead for next year, but may rely on state government funding beyond its 2013 iteration.
The decision was reached after a lengthy council meeting last night, where the City Of Port Phillip voted on the future of St Kilda Festival, just one day before the council entered election caretaker mode, attempting to deal with the budget blowouts going into the red for any incoming council
While councillors voted that St Kilda Festival’s current form was not financially sustainable; outgoing mayor Rachel Powning said the government would need to “rise to the challenge” to ensure the future survival of the popular festival, paving the way for the next Port Phillip council to lobby to the state government to help pitch in finances.
The ruling comes two weeks after deputy mayor Frank O’Connor called for an urgent review of the public music event after learning that the bill for the 2013 would be budgeted at $1.2 million, blowing the council’s planned budget by around $350,000 after allocating $730,688 of its own finances.
The original option included scrapping the Festival Sunday, the main attraction of the eight-day event, which in 2011 brought a record-breaking 420,000 attendance record and around $14 million into the local economy.
Local traders were outraged that the council had considered cancelling the high-profile event without their consideration. The St Kilda Village Traders Association president Bianca Dawson, who represents more than 250 traders in the areas affected by St Kilda Festival’s business, said business owners were fuming over the potential loss of their economy boosting event.
“This is appalling. It’s unreasonable. We are shocked,” Dawson told Port Philip Review about the then-proposed cancellation. “This event brings hundreds of thousands of people to our precinct in one day,” performing the equivalent of a week’s worth of trading on the Festival Sunday.
Dawson was among fourteen speakers, including representatives from the St Kilda Live Music Community and the St Kilda Tourism Association board, who were present at last night’s pivotal council meeting, addressing councillors as the importance of retaining the festival despite budgetary concerns.
They managed to convince the members of the council meeting, the last before local government elections begin next month, to concede that while its escalating costs would leave a black hole in the budget, it would leave an even bigger black hole in the city’s music calendar and cultural scene – with councillors voting unanimously in favour of retaining St Kilda Festival.
Current Port Philip mayor Rachel Powning described the issue of dealing with the financial budgeting of next year’s St Kilda Festival as a “challenge for the incoming council.”
‘‘It’s now costing us $1.2 million for one day. That’s close to our total spend to childcare in the city. I can’t see how that is acceptable for one day,” she said. “We need to put it on the table for the state government to rise to the challenge. If we could just get $1 million from the Grand Prix, how significant would that be?”
Meanwhile, Powning’s deputy, Cr O’Connor said that proceeding with the 2013 festival – irrespective of the costs – was not the preferred option, but “once I can live with.”
In response to criticism from local traders and representatives of the tourism and music communities, Cr O’Connor said it was “more irresponsible to ignore fiscal responsibility.” Adding that, ‘‘It was not until July 24 that we found out there was no sponsorship money. I make no excuse for raising this in the way I did two weeks ago… at the last minute.”
Though it’s now an issue for incoming council, and their appeals for state government funding, O’Connor said that the fundamental issue over St Kilda Festival remained that: “We’ve got a product that people don’t want to put money in. Hence we need to rethink and reshape it to get value for ratepayers’ money.”
Catani Ward coucillor Serge Thomann, who has been fighting in favour of the festival’s survival and was making detailed enquiries about the refused Jeep sponsorship deal back in July, was pleased with the decision to go ahead. Saying it would have been a “slap in the face” to the community had the event been canned.
Thomann also recognised that funding for the festival’s projected $1.2 million remained a challeng, “hopefully we will find a saviour in the next two to three months,” adding that crowdfunding through the likes of Kickstarter or Pozible may be a viable option if the state government chose to ignore their financial woes.
Two or three months grace to deal with the financial gulf in the budget, with proper warning and acknowledgement for incoming council to lobby for assistance, is a far better result than canning it for the sake of sweeping money issues under the rug at the real cost of losing an important cultural event.
In any case, it’s encouraging news from the City Of Port Phillip, who has gone to extra lengths to support local live music culture. Including helping balance out the issues over St Kilda venue-come-record store Pure Pop Records, who previously seemed to the target of a witch hunt by residents and local council, who have now done a backflip and helped the venue rather than hindered. As well as the upward turn for the Prince’s new bandroom over their Public Bar re-opening.
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