Recovery money from BP allocated to the city-parish is now expected to be used to lure Bayou Country Superfest back to Baton Rouge for 2012.
After an hour of debate, the Metro Council on Wednesday approved a resolution authorizing the Baton Rouge Convention and Visitors Bureau to receive $493,000 in recovery funds from BP.
Late last year, BP made $30 million available to Louisiana earmarked for tourism.
The money is being allocated to each parish through the Lieutenant Governor’s Office.
The funds caused some contention among some council members who questioned the timing and lack of plans provided about using the grant.
In December, the council voted unanimously to deny $300,000 in funding for this year’s event, primarily on the grounds that the funding came with little accountability in terms of how it would be used.
The two-day Bayou Country Superfest is held Memorial Day weekend at LSU Tiger Stadium.
After this year’s concert, festival producer Quint Davis said the event would not return to Baton Rouge without a financial commitment from the city-parish or other sources.
The requested city-parish subsidy is in addition to $300,000 already provided by the CVB.
“We’ve heard it loudly and clearly that you’d rather the money not come from the general fund,” Mayor-President Kip Holden said. “Well this money came from a fund set up from BP.”
Holden said he has negotiated down the requested subsidy amount from $300,000 to $200,000.
Paul Arrigo, president and chief executive officer of the CVB, said the BP funds would be used both for Bayou Country Superfest, and other events expected in 2012.
The grant would be considered a substantial one for the agency which has a $3.4 million operating budget.
Councilman Chandler Loupe attempted to defer the CVB item for 30 days because the council was not given information about how the funds would be used ahead of the meeting.
“I have nothing to vote on but to give you a blank check that may or may not be used for Bayou Country Superfest,” he said. “We need a plan before we can vote on this.”
Loupe suggested the lack of information was intentional to avoid conflict about the festival. “This looks like a back-door way to fund an event that some taxpayers are against,” he said.
Some council members said they were concerned that after they approved the money that the council would lose any input on how it was spent.
“I know what’s going to happen, you’re going to fund Bayou Country Superfest and I’m going to get e-mails saying ‘I’m not for that,’ but I have no control over that. You do,” Loupe said.
Arrigo said he would create a small committee, including council participation, to craft a plan for the funds to be submitted back the council.
But Arrigo cautioned that not acting on the funds could result in losing them, and losing Superfest.
“Acts are being booked up,” he said. “There’s a guy down in New Orleans with $5 million.”
Some council members pressed Arrigo to provide them with any preliminary information he had about his plans for the funds.
Councilman Joel Boé asked Arrigo to go back to his office before the meeting ended to get any drafts of funding plans.
Arrigo said he’d prefer to submit an official proposal with the help of the committee.
Council members also questioned why they were receiving the request so late, when some parishes have already started to collect their recovery funds.
Arrigo said that if the money had been approved before the concert, then Superfest organizers may have tried to tap it for the current year.
“Mr. Arrigo, it sounds like it was a very calculated plan not to present us with it until after Memorial Day,” Boé said.
Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle made the motion to accept the money contingent on a report from a committee about how it will be used.
The resolution passed, 9-2, with council members Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois and Mike Walker dissenting.
Voting for the resolution were Loupe, Boé, Marcelle, Donna Collins-Lewis, Alison Gary, formerly Alison Cascio, Ronnie Edwards, Tara Wicker, Scott Wilson and Trae Welch.
Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison was absent.
“This is one-time, free money,” Gary said. “I can’t see why we wouldn’t want to just accept this because it’s free money coming from a private source.”