Special Events Advisory Committee, May 12, 2021
Meeting recap (the important stuff):
Funding for the 2022 U Sports Men’s Hockey Championships got approval in principle from the Special Events Advisory Committee.
The committee also debated the plan for major event funding for the next three years. The city tends to plan major event funding in three year cycles and another three year cycle is about to start. In response to questions from Discover Halifax’s Ross Jefferson, city staff explained that usually these events are funded through the hotel levy, and the levy is down due to COVID. The city thinks it’s important to fund major events in Halifax to ensure the city’s flagship events survive the pandemic.
Jefferson said he wanted to see events survive to make sure Halifax isn’t a quiet city post-pandemic, but otherwise questioned the value of fully funding virtual events. He proposed an amendment to reduce funding by 20 per cent to events that were planning on being virtual. He wanted events planning to be in-person to be fully funded, even if they were forced to switch to online due to the pandemic.
That amendment passed, as did the plan for the next three years of event funding. Tim Rissesco abstained from the vote as he’s on the board for Canoe 2022, which is receiving funding from the event levy.
Since this is an advisory committee the next step for both of these motions is final approval at council.
Who said what (paraphrased):
Russell: We’re on to MLSER, Major Sport Hosting funding request, do we have a presentation?
Elizabeth Taylor, city staff: No, but we’re here to answer any questions on the content of the report.
Tim Rissesco: *Reads motion for agenda item 9.1.1 as written*
Ross Jefferson: I’m supportive of the report but a few clarifications. There was a reference to the 1900 rooms fans would be generating but is that just for teams and referees and such?
Staff: That’s correct.
Jefferson: I have some more clarification questions about the hotel levy on the total funding account, so I think that might be for the next item?
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous
Russell: On to 9.1.2, the marketing levy special events grant report.
Morse: *Reads the motion for agenda item 9.1.2 as written*
Jefferson: Verification on funding, we know COVID has impacted the feasibility of events taking place, and we know that the hotel levy that funds this has been eroded. Have we reduced our funding this year to 80 per cent of what’s been provided for grants?
Taylor: No, this has not gone to council yet, you have the first pass to review staff recommendations, and if you want to amend them you have the right to do so, and then those go to council. Our signature events are in year three of a three year cycle. For 2020 we reduced each event by 20 per cent. It’s the MLSER fund, it’s an odd acronym. Last year we reduced everyone to per cent to save money. This year we have restored their funding to the 2019 levy, knowing they’ve had a difficult year. And understanding that virtual events, when they’re being held as replacements as in-person events, can be as or more costly than in-person events. Digital versions of some events will probably be part of in-person events going forward for accessibility and branding. We haven’t cut anyone by 20 per cent, except for one event, our signature events are at their normal funding though.
Jefferson: So we did reduce by 20 per cent, when the committee was halted, were there recommendations for funding in the past 13 months that went straight to council?
Taylor: Yes, because of the recast budget and that process.
Jefferson: In the report, we’re reducing the annual reserve of $400,000 to $200,000 for major event opportunities, is that for grants?
Taylor: Pre-COVID from the hotel levy we’d immediately remove somewhere in the $400,000 for a warchest. But our financial advisors this year have said they’d only allow $200,000 but to have something if we get a major funding request, which we did last week.
Jefferson: Do we have enough to pay for all our predicted funding needs?
Taylor: We have ~$500,000, usually we’d have ~$900,000. Which is lower but normally we’d have some requests in, but right now we’ve just had inquiries. It’s likely that this will cover what we’re going to see this year. Are we in the same place we were two years ago? No, but the event world is changing. We just wanted to make sure we have the funding for our signature events. We wanted to make sure we could fund them, and have some money left over for small events. Next year, we’ll just have to wait and see. But hopefully with the vaccinations we’ll have a higher hotel level.
Jefferson: We’ve met the needs this year but the future’s hard to predict?
Rissesco: I should have declared a conflict, I’m on the board for Canoe 22, so I’ll sit this one out.
Alison Gillan: Events that were funded last year that didn’t happen, those funds just move forward to this year?
Taylor: There was one instance of an event that was not funded but is funded this year, correct.
Gillan: Was there more than one event last year where the money moved forward?
Taylor: There was only one, most of the ones that couldn’t have taken place weren’t funded. The only one who thought they could do it was Pop Explosion, so those funds will be used for this year. Frankly, it helped us save.
Morse: It seemed like all of the events we’re talking about are for next year except Urban Folk Fest, which is this year?
Taylor: Most of them start soon, July.
Morse: Are there any concerns about travel?
Taylor: Oh yes, major concerns, which they have too. Jazz Fest would have booked entertainers from out of province and used to have major hotel stays, but it’s virtual this year. Hopefully film fest can be in-person, buskers are probably going to have some in-person. Tattoo is virtual, which will hopefully keep them in business. Hopefully we can keep these events in business because without there’d be nothing going on in this city when things get back to normal.
Morse: For the Tattoo this summer, are there going to be acts coming in from outside of NS?
Taylor: No, it’s a pride of Nova Scotia for this year. They were disappointed they weren’t able to do international. Also they’re ticketed this year.
Morse: Publicity, how will we publicize these?
Taylor: That’s the role of the events.
Russell: Canada Day events, I didn’t see them in the list, are they not also funded?
Taylor: That’s the other grant program.
Russell: Rather than having a parade and concert and fireworks we had a pop-up movie theatre, and a large screen was much cheaper.
Jefferson: I’m reserving my own consideration pending input from this committee, we do have a number of events this year that are requesting funding for virtual events, and given that the criteria for funding is tourism benefit, *rustling of papers* for the long term. We’re considering events for funding that don’t traditionally qualify.
Taylor: That’s true, the whole business case is for hotel nights. We’ve taken a more empathetic approach. Even if these virtual events don’t have hotel rooms they could put Halifax on the map for people who otherwise never would have considered it, if they can watch it internationally. We would have been in our right to say ‘you’re not providing hotel nights as predicted’ and say no, but we decided not to. If you want to do that, it’s within your rights, but we’re thinking about the long term, we could fund them at 50 per cent and it would hurt but they’d probably survive. If you want to fund them at 20 per cent less, like you did last year, that’d build up our balance. We may feel on our end that they’ve met the business case and it’s just so different with COVID.
Morse: I’m not sure how the funding mechanism works but can we tie funding to publicize Nova Scotia as part of their event? Since they could have national or international audiences.
Taylor: Yes, we could do terms like that, we’d obviously want them to stay in the HRM, but yes we could do that.
Taylor: The baseball championship, that came to us as a national championship, and with the restrictions they can’t do a national, Shari can you give the details on what they’ve changed?
Shari Dillman: They are no longer hosting the Canadian championships, but are hosting the Atlantic championships, so with that they are still planning the same dates, same locations, with 10 Atlantic teams, and staying within our hopefully soon-to-be bubble, they expect a higher visitor rate.
Taylor: So we didn’t feel like we had to make changes for that one, pending public health changes.
Russell: It would be great to have the Atlantic Canadian championships.
Jefferson: The ultimate decision to fund virtual events is a difficult one, I’m supportive of the events being able to sustain themselves. My opinion of the value of marketing in a virtual event I would discount significantly, but I would be supportive of keeping the event alive in the future. We expect restrictions to start dropping in the summer and fall, so I think it’s important we’re ready with events when that happens. Our concern is that we won’t have a lot going on and it’ll be a quiet city, so having a live version or scalable event is good for the city. I don’t want to see an event lost to our future because they weren’t funded.
Taylor: For the reduction in 20 per cent from last year, we had no negative feedback from events saying ‘oh no we’re going to go under.’ I don’t think it would be the worst thing that could happen. It would be interesting to try and push events to the later part of the summer and fall because that’s when I think we’re going see people return to our region, and we need to entertain them.
Jefferson: We don’t expect the hotel levy to be back to its full level until 2024. Events will come back but business travel will be down, and the hotel room rates a lower. I want to make sure we’re not funding virtual events for the sake of funding virtual events which doesn’t allow us to have a real event later on. Can I make a friendly amendment to review the online only requests at 80 per cent?
Russell: I’m not sure that’s a friendly amendment but it adds a point six to the motion, do we have a seconder?
Taylor: Some of these events might not know the approach they’re going to take. We could sign a grant agreement where they intend to have an in-person event and at the last minute they could change to virtual, so you should reduce all events to 80 per cent, which would give them confidence that if they sign the agreement they’ll get the full amount in the contract.
Jefferson: Since the amendment has been seconded can I build on it? Are you saying that 80 per cent reduction and if they went in-person they’d get up to 100 per cent?
Taylor: No, they’d stay at 80 per cent.
Jefferson: I’d propose that events intending to be live get 100 per cent and events that are planning to be virtual and get 80 per cent, but if you plan to be live but health requirements change then they still get 100 per cent. Since virtual events don’t really meet the requirements of our funding.
*Finagling the wording of the amendment, to be the same intent of what Jefferson just said*
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous – Amendment passes
Gillan: I think everyone wants in-person events but I think the idea of having an incentive to do in-person funding, I think it’s an important position. (She’s really quiet and my hearing is super bad, she said other stuff.)
M/S/C – Vote – Aye – Unanimous – Rissesco abstains
Russell: Date of next meeting to be determined, motion to adjourn!
Councillor Paul Russell, Chair (District 15)
Councillor Tony Mancini (District 6)
Councillor Kathryn Morse (District 10)
Tim Rissesco, Business Improvement District
Ross Jefferson, Discover Halifax
Todd Brayman, Business and Tourism Organization
Alison Gillan, Halifax Partnership
N/A – COVID
Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:
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