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Teddy Abrams leads the Britt Orchestra at the Britt Pavilion in Jacksonville. The festival turned a profit in 2017 in spite of having to cancel a show in August. [Photo by O'Neil Arnold]

Britt in the black

JACKSONVILLE — Britt Music Festival revenues totaled more than $4.4 million for 2017, exceeding expenses by a tad more than $70,000.

Executive Director and President Donna Briggs said last fall she was uncertain whether revenues would surpass costs after an Aug. 8 concert by Rodrigo y Gabriella was canceled because of an electrical outage.

As it turns out, the festival did not need to dip into its rainy day fund.

“That’s a good thing, because we will be putting that (revenue) right back into the seating,” said Briggs.

Work is underway to replace benches installed 30 years ago, upgrade lighting, add more seats and improve access paths.

Revenue came from ticket sales, grants, memberships, business partnerships, gifts and other sources, including program advertising and sales of food and alcohol.

Adding to the revenue was a new food service arrangement that featured offerings by four vendors with operations elsewhere in the community. Revenues from the new vendors exceeded budget projections, as did customer satisfaction with the fare, said Briggs. Frau Kemmling Schoolhaus Brewhaus, Peruvian Point, Back Porch Barbecue and Grill and Fired-Up Gourmet will all return for the 2018 season, said Briggs.

“The new concession model has exceeded our expectations," said Briggs. “The response from our patrons has been very favorable.”

Seating project work has included removal of the old seats, removal of the old light and control towers, earth moving and some concrete pours. More than 300 seats will be added. The $1.2 million project is on schedule for a mid-June opening. The opening date and act will be announced once contracts have been signed.

A grant from the MJ Murdoch Charitable Trust of Vancouver, Washington, for the project has totaled $300,000, including a $100,000 outright gift and a match amount of $100,000 awarded when donors gave a similar amount. Sales of sponsored seats have brought in $189,000, exceeding the $175,000 goal. So far 300 sponsored seats have been sold, but 700 remain available. Seats cost from $250 to $1,500.

“The seat sales were board-driven,” said Briggs. “It’s really nice for people to have ownership into this project.”

A city report on ticket tax revenues received showed the majority of ticket sales were for $30 or more. There were 49,853 sales in that category, which were taxed at a rate of $2 each. Tickets between $15 and $29.99, taxed at a rate of $1 each, accounted for 2,086 sales. Tickets under $15, of which there were 11,217, are not taxed. The lower-priced tickets included smaller events held in the performance garden, Briggs said.

In all, Britt paid $101,792 in taxes to the city, but under city policy anything above $70,000 is returned to the festival.

Main stage event attendance was down to 60,876 from 63,640 in 2016 in part due to the cancellation. The festival staged 36 concerts in 2017 and 37 the previous year.

Britt has explored insuring events in case of cancellations, but the proposition doesn’t pencil out, Briggs said. There has been just the one event cancellation in the festival’s 56 years, she noted.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

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