Go Forward Pine Bluff CEO Ryan Watley said financial numbers that The Commercial published on July 30 as part of an overall analysis of GFPB’s efforts to help revitalize the city are incorrect and portray the public/private partnership in a bad light.
The Commercial obtained the information from a document compiled by Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission member Bill Moss, who said via e-mail on Monday that he stands by them.
In an e-mail, Watley said that the festival “is not losing six-figure dollars. Those that presented the information are equating the sum of tax dollars spent plus any deficit to a loss. Even with this approach, they used an incomplete set of financials for the results… .”
For example, Watley said, the line item in Moss’s numbers that shows the 2018 King Cotton basketball tournament losing a total of $192,491.33 is incorrect because much of that money includes renovations to the Pine Bluff Convention Center; therefore, it should not be counted as a loss when comparing how much the festival made.
In all for 2018, the GFPB festivals showed a net income of -$46,259.15, according to numbers provided by Watley. Total expenses were $520,038.54, and total income was $474,779.39.
“The City Council budgets the festival as an expense and we work to bring in private dollars (last year over six figures) to host three events at an affordable price,” Watley said. “We do not look to make a profit but make enough money to defray some expenses and remain within the confines of the budget provided.
“This is evident by the free 2018 festival and the 2019 festival. I am confident the eventual social and economic impact study will reveal that the festival series is helping to improve the image of Pine Bluff and restore pride. The convention center is being viewed as a point of destination as their bookings and revenue are up by almost $50,000.
“This type of practice hurts sponsorship and the efforts to brand out city. The continued nonsense also hurts with grant opportunities to accomplish the goals of the public/private partnership (of Go Forward Pine Bluff).
“What are those that reported the incomplete financials and criticizing doing to improve the city? They are unwilling to assist in any capacity to make the quality of life better. What were we as a city doing two years ago to improve the quality of life and brand of the city?
“We have accomplished gathering thousands of people in a public setting with no car break in’s and major security issues. We produced a first-class event and together are making a difference.”
For his part, Moss said that the spreadsheet that The Commercial used for its initial article “is supported and cross-referenced to the in-house financial statements prepared and presented by (Pine Bluff Convention Center Director) Joseph McCorvey to the Finance Committee of the Advertising and Promotion Commission and also to the Pine Bluff Civic Auditorium Commission.
“I am unsure as to Ryan Watley's standing to dispute the information as incorrect. The amounts presented and their classification are from the accounts and records of the Pine Bluff Convention Center.”
McCorvey, like Watley, said that the numbers provided by Moss are inaccurate and do not present a balanced view of finances relating to the convention center and GFPB events.
By John Worthen
COMMERCIAL MANAGING EDITOR
Even though all of the events that have been sponsored by Go Forward Pine Bluff have lost money over the past year, GFPB officials say there have still been strong benefits to the community.
The most recent event, Forward Fest: Blues, Batter and Brew, held in June, operated at a loss of $133,268.71, according to an accounting sheet from the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
The center, along with Go Forward Pine Bluff, sponsored the event, along with corporate donors. Go Forward Pine Bluff is a public/private partnership with the City of Pine Bluff and is part of a five-eighths cent sales tax increase passed by voters in 2017.
GFPB CEO Ryan Watley said that “The Delta Celebration Series of Festivals and Events (of which Go Forward is a part) is part of the effort to increase the number of seasonal activities in Pine Bluff. This concept works to improve the quality of life and make Pine Bluff a point of destination to enhance the brand of our city. While some are concerned about the profit lost margin of these events, the ticket price cannot be affordable ($10) to all and experience a financial benefit.
“We are allotted a budget from City Council each year, and we operate within those confines to make the events affordable. Absent a mixture of public and private funds; the festival series would not be possible. Our strategy is to use the profits from one festival as seed money for the subsequent events. This model works well to accomplish the mission approved by the voters.”
The second year of Forward Fest: Blues, Batter and Brew drew 7,200 visitors at its peak at Hestand Stadium, according to the convention center. Sponsored by Budweiser, Anthony Hamilton, Kingfish Ingram, Southern Avenue, and Mr. Sipp headlined the event.
Estimated attendance for 2019 was approximately 9,000 throughout the day, peaking at 7,200 during Hamilton’s performance.
The festival spent $100,000 to bring Hamilton to the stage, according to his contract. Total ticket sales brought in $35,723.66, vendors brought in $6,330, sponsors brought in $5,800, and RV parking brought in $6,816.57.
In 2018, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Homecoming Comedy Show, which was also part of the festivals and events series, showed a loss of more than $16,800 while costing more than $65,000 to put on.
Earlier in 2018, the King Cotton Holiday Classic basketball tournament lost more than $192,000.
Watley said he wants the public to know the facts not only with the Delta Celebration Series of Festivals and Events but with Go Forward Pine Bluff’s mission.
“Forward Fest once again proved to be a success,” he said. “Our goal each year is to provide a safe, entertaining attraction that is first class and affordable. Forward Fest brought thousands into the all but forgotten Hestand Stadium. The area had not experienced that amount of traffic and box office activity in decades. There were no security issues, and the weather while warm was dry. We have analyzed the feedback from several attendees and will act upon any suggestions to improve the value and experience of Forward Fest. Ultimately, we will get better.”
The festivals are only a fraction of Go Forward Pine Bluff’s focus.”
According to Joseph McCorvey, the Pine Bluff Convention Center is receiving significant business activity and interest as a result of its association with the festival series.
He said that “For the first time in years, promoters are calling our offices to book entertainment at the convention center and the Pine Bluff destination. Citizens need to support these acts, plays, and events to entice and attract future entertainment and sporting events."
Watley said he and others are evaluating the benefit and cost of a two-day format, as
“this approach will potentially increase the economic impact and diversify the event via attractions and activities. Organizers will also investigate reducing the possible weather impact by searching for venues and or infrastructure that protect attendees from the sun and rain. Part of that is taking advantage of our improved convention center arena.”