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Country Crossings leaves vendors in lurch

Turns out the heat and smoke that greeted Country Crossings patrons last July were mere omens to a financially hazy aftermath.

Jackson County, Central Point and the Oregon Department of Transportation are among public entities awaiting payment of $100,800 for their services during the four-day country music festival at the Expo. Private security and vendors are also awaiting payment from Eugene-based BootsNBeach Country Music Festival LLC.

Country Crossings — the largest non-fair event at the Expo — was one of three festivals staged by the organization that has been led by Anne Hankins. The other two events were in August — Willamette Country Music Festival, held outside Brownsville in Linn County, and Mountain Home Country Music Festival in Idaho.

Since then, title sponsor Bi-Mart has severed its relationship with all three festivals; IMG, a global management firm handling everything from college sportscasts to models, has increased its stake in the organization; the management group is evolving; and Hankins' role has changed, although she remains an employee of WCMC, an IMG spokesperson said. .

“The invoices have gone out,” said John Vial, who oversees the Jackson County Roads and Parks Department. “I know they paid last year.”

In rounded figures, Country Crossings owes the Expo $17,000, county roads $4,200, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office $62,000, Central Point police $8,600, and ODOT $9,000.

“The latest we heard when we talked with Anne a few weeks ago was that they needed the invoices sooner, rather than later,” Central Point City Manager Chris Clayton said.

Bi-Mart Vice President Don Leber said the Eugene-based retailer made its move last month. Bi-Mart had been involved 11 years in Brownsville, four years at Mountain Home, and three years on the Oregon Coast at the Country Crossings predecessor at Cape Blanco.

A telephone message for Hankins was not returned.

For many vendors, the wait goes on. Among them are local high school clubs, who contracted with festival management to supply student helpers, as well as provide camping space on nearby athletic fields. The Central Point School District anticipated a minimum payment of $22,000 by Sept. 1 but has not received it, according to Spencer Davenport, chief financial officer.

Rogue Valley residents Mike and Colleen Cunningham, who operate a small confectionery business known as Heavenly Nutz, were among the 35 food vendors both at Country Crossings and Willamette Country Music Festival.

After contacting the management firm, the Cunninghams signed on as a vendor, paying an $800 fee up front, and agreeing to give the festival a 20 percent cut in point-of-sale online transactions. Cash sales went directly to the vendor.

“After expenses, as far as our tally, it was pretty much a wash for us with no profit or loss,” Mike Cunningham said.

They await, however, the agreed-upon 80 percent of revenue.

The Cunninghams decided they’re one and done with the festivals.

“We’re not coming back,” Mike said. “I have no idea if we get much traction, but I don’t think the new organization wants their name in the mud.”

Although one year remains in the three-year deal with Jackson County, there is no assurance the third festival will take place.

An IMG spokesperson confirmed the company is in the process of assessing the festival, and no decisions about 2019 have been made at this time.

Expo Director Helen Funk said the promoters submitted their application in late 2017 for the 2018 festival.

“They have three festivals to review and get all their books straightened out,” Funk said. “IMG reached out two weeks ago to confirm contracts, billables and payables.”

The dust has yet to settle on a number of other fronts for BootsNBeach, including its 2019 Willamette Country Music Festival venue. After a decade on a 700-acre patch of farmland outside of Brownsville, the owner decided to plant hazelnut trees. A proposed move near Harrisburg has not been warmly received.

Linn County Sheriff’s Department is awaiting $78,000 for its services during the August festival. Likewise school and other community groups have yet to be paid along with vendors.

“We have a mess on our hands,” said Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist.

“In the early years, there was no financial accountability provision in our agreement,” said Nyquist, who has been in office for 17 years. “Now that’s one of the many issues that exists.”

There are five years left on the existing permit issued to Hankins.

“But it’s not transferable, and we don’t know the status of Anne Hankins or the William Morris Agency,” Nyquist said. "Our role has been health, safety and welfare to keep people safe. It never included financial welfare, but maybe it should have.”

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or gstiles@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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