At its regular meeting last week, the Riverbank City Council heard a report on the October, 2019 Cheese and Wine Exposition’s performance and made a decision on the future of the event.
Parks and Recreation Department head Sue Fitzpatrick presented the council with a brief history of the event, reported on its relative success earlier this year and options on moving forward with its continuation in the future. Ultimately, it appears the event will continue, albeit likely under new supervision.
Fitzpatrick and her staff oversee production and promotion of the event by Modesto-based Chris Ricci Presents, which has run the festival for the city since taking over its presentation six years ago.
She noted that this was be the 43rd year the festival has been held in Riverbank. The Chamber of Commerce administered the event for the first 29 years and the Riverbank Rotary Club for eight years.
“The community enjoys this festival,” she said, “and it brings a large number of people to the downtown, which is one of the goals identified within the City’s Strategic Plan.”
Fitzpatrick added that many things have changed over the past 43 years.
“There are more festivals to choose from regionally for vendors and therefore this has somewhat limited the availability of vendors,” she said.
She pointed out that the event does not have “the number of vendors that were seen when the festival was at its peak 20 years ago. The festival is enjoyed at its current level by the community and as mentioned, is well attended.”
Concerns for potential safety problems have also impacted the event.
As a result, she said, “The security needs have increased, especially this year after the incident in Gilroy (shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival) prior to our Festival.”
Other statistics indicated that numbers were down this year for the wine tastings and vendors said many festivals in the area they were involved with seemed to have lower overall attendance.
“Some vendors who were at the Gilroy Festival did not come to our festival and some wineries were not willing to attend,” Fitzpatrick pointed out.
She said the enhanced security had a financial impact that will likely create a negative current year operating balance within the annual Cheese and Wine Exposition budget.
“We have not completed the final accounting for the 2019 Fiscal Year Budget, but, without considering the cost of security, there will likely be a balance of approximately $3,000 expenses over revenues generated,” she reported to the council.
She added that there was approximately $20,000 in the Cheese and Wine fund balance from previous year’s revenue.
“In past years, the event has been self-sustaining with no impact to the General Fund,” she said.
Fitzpatrick told the council that city staff, along with the Sheriff’s Department, has held an internal debriefing on the festival and some ideas that should be considered are as follows:
• This Festival is a large undertaking for our small Parks and Recreation Department. Even with a promoter, it involves a great deal of oversight and staff time because it is a City event, unlike when it was run by the Chamber of Commerce or the Rotary Club.
• For a variety of reasons, staff may recommend that the City administer the festival in-house without a promoter. If this was to happen, a contract would still be necessary with a non-profit or even a for-profit organization to administer the Cheese and Wine and Beer Booth components of the event. Making this change may save the City funds and help it to run more smoothly.
• Hiring a Recreation Coordinator for Special Events, in charge of the Cheese and Wine Festival, is one possible option that may allow for in-house management of the Festival as opposed to hiring a Promotor/Contractor. This person would be paid by revenue from the festival (as the current promotor is) and would be located at City Hall to work on the festival for a pre-determined number of hours per week, year-round. This person would need to be experienced in special events.
Additional Security Implemented
The enhanced security, once established, went very well and can be fine-tuned next year, Fitzpatrick reported. This additional “expense will need to be budgeted and cannot be sustained through festival revenue. The concrete blocks have been purchased through the City so this will not be an annual cost. The placement of the blocks is something that Public Works and Parks will need to work together on for street closures. This proved to require substantial coordination.”
The enhanced security guards cost an additional $9,000, she reported, and the purchase of concrete blocks was $3,000. She also said there was about $3,000 less brought in by the Wine Tasting ticket sales. She said that equated to about 150 people less attending than in years past. And they lost about $4,000 due to lowered vendor fees, she said.
Fitzpatrick said, overall, the event income by vendors was reported to be down about 30 percent.
She told the council that profits saved up over the past five years the city had organized the event would cover the losses this year.
“So far, we have not had to touch any General Fund money. But, looking forward, the additional security costs are something we need be aware of. Similar costs for next year’s event would put us in the red right away,” she said.
After discussion, it was the consensus of the council that Fitzpatrick look into hiring a Recreation Coordinator for Special Events, to be in charge of the Cheese and Wine Expo, allowing for in-house management of the festival as opposed to hiring a Promotor/Contractor.
She assured the council that she thought the Cheese and Wine revenue could pay for a part-time staff position.