Plans are underway for the return of Festival International de Louisiane in Spring 2021, including the possibility of adding venues outside of downtown Lafayette, according to organizers.
FIL Executive Director Scott Feehan said the festival and its organizers are dealing with several challenges heading into the spring, although nothing has been decided.
"We're doing everything we can to keep Festival alive," Feehan said in a phone interview Thursday. "We want to be creative and innovative again and give the community something to be proud of. We are a community event, so we're dependent upon their support, and that's why we're not operating in a bubble right now."
One of the most promising ideas is to add a second Festival venue in Youngsville.
Festival organizers approached Youngsville Mayor Ken Ritter with the idea about two weeks ago. All discussions have centered around a second Festival venue at the Youngsville Sports Complex.
"I certainly recognize the value that Festival brings to Lafayette," Ritter said. "So anything I can do to help make Festival successful, I'm certainly willing to help. The idea of our partnership does excite me, and I think it's a great opportunity to showcase our city."
Other outdoor venues for the festival are being considered, including Cajun Field, Beaver Park and Moncus Park.
Festival organizers are also meeting with downtown Lafayette leaders in an effort to find creative solutions to keep most of the event in the city's core.
"We are doing everything we can to keep Festival downtown," Feehan said. "But we are dealing with some hard economic numbers."
In downtown Lafayette, officials are working with Festival organizers as best they can, said Anita Begnaud, CEO of the Downtown Development Authority. The challenge is organizers are trying to plan for an event when the COVID-19 restrictions could change when Festival is scheduled.
Festival brings in about $1 million in sales tax revenue, she said, and reports indicate its $40 million impact on the local economy.
“I feel for them,” she said. “I don’t envy them at all. The challenge is that Festival International and Downtown Lafayette are so intertwined. There are businesses in downtown Lafayette that located in downtown Lafayette because of Festival. There are businesses that bring in executives during Festival International on purpose to show off the best of this market.”
Finances have been tough for Festival for the past few years. While it boasts a massive economic impact of $40 million, hard costs have been difficult to manage as major donors receded, The Current reported. Festival staff considered cutting stages in 2017, trimming about $400,000 off a $1.5 million budget after losing several sponsorships.
This year, Lafayette Parish Mayor-President Josh Guillory cut LCG’s contribution to Festival, after campaigning on reducing public spending to “non-essential” programs. His first budget followed through with cuts to the arts and parks and recreation.
LCG's contributions have dropped in recent years, Begnaud said, including under former Mayor-President Joel Robideaux. Guillory cut the security budget for Festival in half, she noted.
“At the minimum we have to keep the level of security at what we’ve had in the past,” she said. “It’s an investment.”
When Festival did not happen in April because of coronavirus, it was the first cancellation in more than 30 years.
Ritter said there has been no commitment from the city of Youngsville or from Festival at this point. Conversations are still in the early stages, and logistics would have to be worked through.
"I'm not expecting it to be turnkey," Ritter said. "Undoubtedly, we would have to work with them on the logistics, but we are prepared to do that. We're willing to work with them and provide whatever they need to pull off a successful event."
While Youngsville has a robust parks and recreation budget due to a dedicated 1-cent sales tax, the event would likely require additional city funding. Ritter expects the city council would approve.
There are 1,200 parking spots at the Sports Complex. Additional parking is available at nearby public, private and charter schools. Shuttles have been used before to transport people from the schools to the venue during Mardi Gras and Independence Day celebrations.
Youngsville does not have any hotels, although there are nearby lodging options in Lafayette and Broussard.
"I don't particularly see that as an issue," Ritter said. "We are a small parish, geographically. The hotels in Lafayette benefit from the economic driver of our Sports Complex today."
A virtual version of Lafayette's biggest annual event was held in April with musical performances streaming via Facebook on three nights. The festival financial success is heavily reliant on alcohol and merchandise sales, which can't happen in a meaningful way in a virtual event.
"We all want to have a really cool live event to go to," Feehan said. "We believe in our hearts the community wants that as well. We want to figure out the right way to give the community a really cool live event to experience and enjoy."
Although many things are still up-in-the-air for the 2021 event, one thing is certain: The festival will also be streamed virtually for those who cannot or choose not to attend in person.
Acadiana Advocate Managing Editor Kristin Askelson and Business Editor Adam Daigle contributed to this report.