Downtown Hotels Will Miss BayFest

Lobby of the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel

City and County officials were never given the chance to discuss saving BayFest. The music festival’s president announced Wednesday that the event was being cancelled after twenty years.

“It has been good for the county and city,” said  Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson who has a wall of BayFest signed guitars and posters in her Government Plaza office.

“There has been a good return on investment these years.”

Mobile County gave $200,000 to BayFest last year. The City gave $98,000 and also chipped in $192,000 in overtime for workers. Therefore, total taxpayer cost was $490,000.

The event generated $850,000 in tax revenue alone, however, according to economist Christopher Keshock from the University of South Alabama who studied BayFest’s  financial impact.

He says the overall economic impact of BayFest 2014 was 21 million –dollars. Keshock presented those numbers to public officials just two months ago.

“By these figures it’s clear we are getting a good return in our investment,” said City Council President Gina Gregory on July 14.

So, would the city and county have been willing to invest more to save the event? We’ll never know.

No one at the city or the county was contacted by BayFest officials before Wednesday’s announcement. BayFest President Bob Bostwick hasn’t spoken to the media since he made the decision to shut down the event.

“I know it all came down to a business decision and I respect that,” said Hudson.

Less sympathetic are downtown hotels.

“I wish the timing was better,” said Spike Blackinton who runs the Renaissance Riverview. “17 days to recover is literally impossible for hotels.”

Blackinton says after Mardi Gras and the Senior Bowl, BayFest is the busiest time of the year at his hotel.

“We’ve lost $150,000 in revenue,” said Blackinton.

It’s a similar story at the Downtown Holiday Inn.

“We have 206 rooms,” said manager Gloria Smith. “We normally sell out. We’ve had about 80 cancellations today.”

Lost hotel rooms also mean less lodging tax collected – money the County uses to promote tourist events.

“It impacts our lodging tax directly,” said Hudson. “And that is a fund that is set up to pay for events coming. It’s an enterprise fund so to speak.”

Members of the BayFest Board of Directors tell News 5 they were shocked by Bostwick’s decision and were never consulted.

Several City Council members tell News 5 they were considering increasing BayFest’s funding in the fiscal 2016 budget.

Under former Mayor Sam Jones, BayFest received $243,000 from the city.


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