Traverse City News and Events

City Commissioners To Talk Festival Fees, Logistics

By Beth Milligan | Sept. 7, 2019

The National Cherry Festival and Traverse City Film Festival could be charged more to use city parks and parking lots if city commissioners decide to stop giving the festivals special exemptions from permit fees. Commissioners will discuss the issue at their Monday meeting, and will also have a discussion in the coming weeks about the city’s third major event – Ironman – and how that event could potentially change when it returns in 2020.

The National Cherry Festival and Traverse City Film Festival are the only events that don’t have to pay city permit fees, including application fees and costs to use city parks and parking lots. The two festivals do pay the city for the incremental costs incurred by their events, such as police overtime – a requirement also imposed on other event organizers. In 2019, the Cherry Festival was charged $63,949 for incremental costs, while the Film Festival was charged $11,740.

But for several years, the two festivals have enjoyed a special exemption extended to them by a past group of city commissioners. Those commissioners, when rewriting the city’s events policy in 2014, felt the Cherry Festival and Film Festival had a “unique place in the history and culture of Traverse City” and therefore deserved special consideration and exemptions from rules and fees applied to other events. Notably, permit fees were waived for the two festivals. According to City Clerk Benjamin Marentette, if the Cherry Festival paid permit fees to the city, those costs would total approximately $20,000 on top of incremental fees. The Film Festival’s permit fees, meanwhile, would total an estimated $8,000 on top of its existing costs.

In May, some city commissioners expressed interest in revisiting the special exemption for the two festivals. New events like Ironman must pay permit and application fees to the city, in addition to incremental costs, and some leaders questioned why the Cherry Festival and Film Festival would be excluded from paying those fees while other major events were not. “I’d just like to see if it’s something that commissioners are interested in opening up and charging them at least the base fee, like we charge other events,” said Commissioner Brian McGillivary at the time.

Marentette notes the City of Traverse City and Cherry Festival have a contract in place through 2021, meaning any new fees could not be enforced until 2022, barring contract renegotiations. The Film Festival and city, however, do not have such a contact in place, so “theoretically modifications could be made to that arrangement as soon as desired by the city commission,” according to Marentette. The city clerk says his suggestion to commissioners – should they decide to start charging permit fees to the festivals – would be to start doing so with both events in 2022 so “they are treated the same, since they both have the same special status.” However, Marentette acknowledges some commissioners might believe the current policy is already unfair to other events, and could want to start enforcing permit fees as soon as possible for each festival. “That’s a viewpoint that could definitely be brought up, and it’ll be up to the city commission as to how they want to handle that,” he says.

In addition to discussing permit fees Monday, commissioners will also have another event-oriented discussion soon – this one about Ironman, the third major “high-impact” event in downtown Traverse City along with Cherry Festival and Film Festival. Following the completion of the inaugural Ironman 70.3 competition on August 25, the city has been gathering public feedback through an online survey about how the race went. Marentette says the city has already received “several hundred” responses, and will compile the input into a report that will be shared with Ironman organizers and city commissioners in October.

Ironman already has approval to return in 2020, with options to renew its agreement with the city for future years beyond that. However, Marentette says the race course and other logistics could change or be refined each year to improve the experience for both residents and participants as part of a “collaborative” working relationship between the city and Ironman.

“The general feel (from survey responses) is there’s a lot of appreciation and support for the event,” says Marentette. “There are also a number of folks who have concerns about the traffic impacts, particularly in Leelanau County. That’s where we’re going to have to focus a lot of our attention.” While Marentette believes Ironman “went very well from a public safety perspective,” he says even supporters have indicated there is room for improving logistics – an outcome he says is to be expected from a first-year event.

“It’s our region’s first time hosting an event of this magnitude,” says Marentette. “When you make the decision to do that, there are going to be some growing pains associated with that.”

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