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Barrie councillors vote to shore up Kempenfest but push self-sufficiency

'Try to get the money from fundraising and the private sector, and if that isn’t successful … then come back and let us know,' says mayor
Midway riders at Kempenfest 2023.

Barrie councillors could back Kempenfest to the tune of $72,000 this year.

Sitting as general committee Tuesday night, councillors approved a plan to shore up the city’s prime waterfront festival.

It’s a combination of funding for the annual event, paying for a review to help make Kempenfest self-sustaining and in-kind city services.

“I want the city to be the investor of last resort, not the investor first, because it’s easy to give away money,” said Mayor Alex Nuttall. “But what we really need is organizations to be striving … to be self-sufficient.”

First, the Kempenfest board will be asked to seek fundraising sponsorship to support its funding request of $15,000 for shuttle bus service and $10,000 for the family side stage. Should the board be unsuccessful, however, as much as $25,000 would be allocated from the city’s tourism reserve to foot these bills.

An estimated 6,108 passengers boarded the shuttle bus during the 2023 Kempenfest weekend, consistent with ridership in 2022.

Deputy Mayor Robert Thomson asked that Kempenfest officials come before city councillors to provide an update before the end of June.

“I would just like an opportunity for them to come back … and then we would have a decision at that point, instead of just the default (city funding),” he said. “I was actually hoping it would be the opportunity to tell us how successful they were.”

“Try to get the money from fundraising and the private sector, and if that isn’t successful … then come back and let us know,” Nuttall said. 

Coun. Bryn Hamilton questioned timelines, if there was sufficient time for Kempenfest officials to do their fundraising.

“Kempenfest is going to be here before we know it,” she said.

That same tourism reserve would also be tapped for as much as $25,000 to retain a consultant to support city staff, Tourism Barrie and Kempenfest officials in assessing the overall economic impact of the festival, along with a financial and governance review to help improve Kempenfest’s operational and financial sustainability.

Kempenfest has a $600,000 operating budget this year.

The study would include attendance numbers, overnight stays, visitor profiles, buying habits and visitor feedback.

City staff would report back on the findings of the economic impact analysis and overall event review, then provide recommendations on the future support of Kempenfest.

The goal is to create a self-sufficient Kempenfest in 2025 and beyond.

The city would also continue its in-kind support for Kempenfest this year, at a level consistent with previous years, including direct staff support, site services co-ordination, administrative support and parking passes, all in all valued at approximately $22,000.

City council will consider final approval of Tuesday’s motion at its May 1 meeting.

Earlier this year, councillors heard from Kempenfest officials that the festival was facing a $50,000 shortfall.

Bob Stones, Kempenfest chairman, told councillors that while the arts and crafts festival attracts roughly 150,000 people on the Civic Holiday weekend, its finances have been a challenge. And, he said, the provincial government grants that helped balance the books after COVID have since dried up. 

In 2022 Kempenfest received $440,000 in grants, but zero in 2023, according to city staff.

Stones asked councillors to consider granting Kempenfest $50,000 from the municipal accommodations tax (MAT) and hiring a researcher to do a comprehensive analysis of Kempenfest 2024, gathering data on its true size and impact on the local economy and to local tourism.

The MAT is a four per cent levy on room rates at hotels, motels and Airbnbs. Tourism Barrie is the collection agent, on behalf of the City of Barrie, as the city’s "tourism entity" and receives 50 per cent of the MAT. The city gets the reminder.

Stones said at the time that Kempenfest officials had other ways to find the $50,000 shortfall, if necessary.

This could involve eliminating the shuttle bus service, which is $15,000, as well as the second or family stage, which features local talent and is free to the public, but costs at least $10,000.

Other options were reducing the number of hospitality tents and seating in those tents, which are placed throughout Kempenfest to provide shelter to the public from weather, looking at reducing the number of washrooms, and finding ways to reduce the event’s waste disposal costs. 

Kempenfest has taken place along Barrie’s waterfront annually for 52 years and features nearly 300 arts and crafts exhibitors, a midway, kids’ village, antiques, face painters, buskers, food vendors and live music during three days on the August long weekend.

Kempenfest is an incorporated not-for-profit organization, comprised of representatives of local not-for-profit organizations and service clubs.