West Chester debates $310K security bill for upcoming VOA Country Music Festival

Ensuring the safety of West Chester Twp. residents and attendees at the massive Voices of America Country Music Festival will cost an estimated $310,078, and a large chunk of the cost is being borne by the state.

The Voices of America Country Music Festival will be staged Aug. 11-13 on the Voice of America park grounds and organizers are estimating 80,000 event-goers will flood the township over the course of the weekend. Headliners include Dan + Shay, Old Dominion, Chris Young and Alabama.

The trustees approved a service agreement Tuesday with Further Festivals LLC for up to $310,078 to pay for the beefed up police and fire coverage to handle an event of this magnitude.

Trustee Mark Welch balked at the cost to Further Festivals because he said he wants to make sure this becomes an annual event. He asked if the township isn’t overestimating the security manpower required to adequately staff the event.

“I felt like we were acting like the new mom and dad that has a new baby and what we’re doing is we’re going over and above,” he said. “We’re just getting that pedantic sort of reaction that all these things have to happen in order for this to be successful and we don’t trip over ourselves.”

Welch told the Journal-News he questioned the cost because he wants to make sure they don’t price themselves out of making this an annual event in the township, which could be a huge economic engine to the township and county.

“It hit me that this is really expensive and I wouldn’t want any single expense to derail an otherwise well planned event,” Welch said. “My questions were primarily around how accurate the personnel cost is for all the safety services based on what is the hoped for and intended attendance.”

Police Capt. Seth Hagaman did the legwork on preparing for the event and even went to Myrtle Beach for their festival — which is a much larger, established affair — to garner tips. He said they can pare back the number of first responders as crowds and issues warrant, but there are some things that are base costs like manning the four entrances and handling bomb sniffing dogs.

“This is a new experience for us as it is for the promoter, he’s having as much trouble predicting for us what’s going to happen as we’re having trouble predicting it until we experience it this first year,” Hageman said. “If we start seeing this is way too much we can bring it back, but that’s much easier to do that it is to decide we planned this way too small.”

Further Festivals won’t ultimately bear the full cost, because West Chester Sen. George Lang was able to secure $200,000 out of the state budget to offset the cost.

Lang told the Journal-News this event is going to be a huge economic boon to the region and the funding is a “one-time shot to help them prove the concept.”

“I looked at it from an economic development perspective and the amount of money that they are going generate for our region,” he said. “Not just the festival itself but the hotel rooms, the restaurants that they’re going to pack and the impact that it’s going to have on West Chester and Butler County.”

Event organizer Tyler Wogenstahl told the Journal-News he didn’t have up-to-date ticket sale numbers but they are expecting roughly 80,000 fest goers over four days.

“It was a great thing the state of Ohio recognized the importance of such a good event here in Butler County,” he said. “It was awesome to have the support of people like Sen. Lang in helping get some funding to support and continue to grow an event that’s going to be bringing I would say $30 million to $50 million of economic impact to the region over the next couple years.”

The Journal-News met with township Fire Chief Rick Prinz and Police Chief Joel Herzog to discuss plans — they’ve been communicating about the event with Wogenstahl for over a year — and what people need to know.

Herzog said the biggest concern is traffic — particularly pedestrians milling the streets where they normally aren’t in the Tylersville Road area — and parking. There are 3,000 parking spaces at VOA and there will be shuttles to overflow lots.

He said there will be bottlenecks throughout the event from Thursday through Sunday, “if you don’t have to go to that area I would suggest you don’t.”

“As we all know Tylersville is a busy, almost to capacity road as it is, so if they can avoid that it’d be great,” Herzog said. “We’re going to work hard as far as running all the traffic lights during the peak times to get flow in and out of the venue. There’s going to be delays, absolutely, there’s going to be parking issues, absolutely.”

He said a couple neighborhood streets will be blocked off in that area and businesses are encouraged to have their plans in place to protect their lots because the cops can’t police private property.

Prinz said they were told to expect 8,000 to 10,000 people on Thursday, just under 15,000 attendees on Friday and 15,000-plus for the weekend.

“It’s definitely not what he indicated to us a year-and-a-half ago that they would have 20,000 to 30,000 people a day,” he said adding this year there’s bound to be some “speed bumps” to work out but “I suspect year 2, 3, 4, 5 they’ll iron all that out.”

One hiccup that can’t be helped is the annual Western & Southern Open tennis tournament will be starting the same weekend six miles away in Mason. About 200,000 spectators flock there annually, and the chiefs said they have been communicating with Deerfield Twp. and Mason officials about traffic and other concerns.

Mason City Manager Eric Hansen told the Journal-News “outside of parking and traffic I don’t see any conflicts actually” and people populating local eateries and businesses “is a good problem.”

“I’m not anticipating any havoc, at least for Mason,” he said. “They’re kind of each on their own interstate, we are cooperating with West Chester and tournament folks as far as parking, which I think is the concern with the music festival and making sure they have adequate parking.”

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