For a case study in the promises as well as the perils of public-private partnerships, look no farther than Bayou Country Superfest, the country music festival that, for the second year in a row, has been a marquee event for Baton Rouge.
Held Memorial Day weekend at LSU’s Tiger Stadium, the event brings big-name acts to town and has been championed by supporters as a major tourist attraction.
But last year, the Metro Council voted to eliminate a $300,000 city-parish subsidy for the festival, with critics on the council arguing that the money came with little accountability.
Festival producer Quint Davis has said the festival won’t return to Baton Rouge next year without a financial commitment from the city-parish or other sources.
The requested city-parish subsidy was in addition to $300,000 that the festival already got from the Baton Rouge Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Under a new plan, the festival will receive a $600,000 subsidy, with $200,000 each coming from the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the state Office of Tourism and part of a recovery grant from BP that was given to the parish. In response to last year’s BP oil leak off the coast of Louisiana, the oil company is giving money to parishes across Louisiana to help rebuild tourism.
These plans raise a few questions. Since festival promoters previously had indicated they needed a $900,000 subsidy to keep the festival here, why were they willing to have that subsidy reduced by a third? How much profit are organizers making from the event? And why is a government subsidy needed in the first place?
Some similar festivals in other parts of the country don’t receive such subsidies. Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who oversees the Office of Tourism, suggested the reduced subsidy to the festival should send a message to festival organizers that the event might have to stand on its own. We believe Dardenne is correct to view the subsidy as a possible bridge to independence for the festival, and not as a permanent annual allocation.
Getting those answers would require Davis to be more forthcoming about Superfest’s financing. But as with most public-private partnerships, private interests want public dollars, but without the full measure of public oversight.