West Chester trustees had a heated discussion about a $200,000 sponsorship request from the organizers of the massive Voices of America country music festival, and the majority said taxpayer money won’t be used to support the for-profit event.
About 30,000 fans are expected to flood West Chester this summer for the Voices of America Country Music Festival that will be staged Aug. 11-13 on the township-owned grounds of the National Voice of America Museum of Broadcasting. Headliners include Dan + Shay, Old Dominion, Chris Young and Alabama.
Trustee Mark Welch broached the $200,000 sponsorship request from Tyler Wogenstahl, chief executive officer at Further Concepts and Investors during their meeting Tuesday. He said it is a terrific marketing opportunity for the township, “we have an opportunity in West Chester to be on the national stage.” He also suggested multiple ways for the township to pay for it, such as part of the proceeds from the $1.9 million sale of the old Activity Center to Kroger.
“We don’t want to be the best-kept secret in Cincinnati or Ohio. We want to get the word out, we should always put our best foot forward, we should always be promoting ourselves because if we don’t do it, nobody’s going to do it,” Welch said. “My personal belief is West Chester Twp. must be competitive, marketable and sustainable.”
Welch said in exchange for the contribution, Wogenstahl promised to promote the township in connection with the festival on numerous social media and other platforms, before and during the festival and more.
“We don’t need to do this out of the generosity of our hearts,” Welch said.
Wogenstahl apparently met with each of the trustees separately to discuss the proposal, and the other two are vehemently opposed to the idea.
Trustee Lee Wong noted three-day passes for the event range from $199 to $1,509. He said the request “blows my mind” and the township would be going “down a slippery slope” with the contribution.
“This is totally out of line to ask this kind of support,” Wong said. “I cannot allow taxpayers’ money to be spent on a private, for-profit event.”
Trustee Ann Becker agreed, asking, “When does it end, who else are we going to sponsor next?”
“My criteria, whenever I look at anything that’s brought to us, is how do the taxpayers benefit,” Becker said. “How do the people of West Chester Twp. with the investment of their money benefit?”
Welch said the township just gave $114,000 to 18 businesses as part of the new SPARK small business revitalization program.
“Guess what? The gate’s already wide open,” Welch said. “We did that with the grant, the SPARK grant, because that’s $114,000 we just gave to 18 businesses. The walls have already been breached.”
Wong told the Journal-News there is a big difference between giving outsiders a sizeable donation for a one-time event and investing in township businesses.
“These are township small businesses, we’re trying to help them,” Wong said. “This is for out-of-town, this music festival. It’s a festival for four days, these the SPARK grant those businesses are here for a long time, we want to retain them here.”
Tracy Kocher, newly promoted president and CEO of Travel Butler County, told the Journal-News requests like this one are not unusual.
“It is not uncommon for a for-profit organization to ask for government sponsorship,” she said. “Importantly, upon receiving these requests, it is the government entity’s role to assess and determine if that opportunity is a good fit for the community’s goals and priorities or not.”
Wogenstahl told the Journal-News he had no comment on the request. As of three weeks ago, he said they have people coming in from 23 different states and three different countries.
“I think the potential economic development for the county is $40 million, that’s hotels, restaurants, we plan on bringing in 100,000 people to the county over that week,” he said.
Welch told the Journal-News they asked for a hand because there is no guarantee the concerts will bring in boatloads of money for the organizers — many events take years to get off the ground — so the money, aside from purchasing a great marketing campaign for the township, could help ensure they can keep it going.
Welch told Becker and Wong, “Well let’s pray to God they have a successful event because if they don’t, they won’t be here next year.”
To that Becker replied, “That’s emotional blackmail.”
Welch said he’s not giving up on the sponsorship. He plans to do some research and hopefully be able to change his fellow trustees’ minds, because they can “reach tens of thousands of people” through the marketing effort.
“My whole position on this is we’re missing a humongous opportunity to get West Chester out on a national stage...,” Welch said. “The argument that we’ve never done it that way before, those are the seven last words of a dying organization.”
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