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Alive @ Five, Tulip Fest grow, still miss projections

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Prior to Tulip Fest. Photo: Mark Brennan/Fair use

ALBANY — Time will tell if Tulip Fest and Alive at Five, two events that have consecutively missed revenue projections, can become self-sustaining under new leadership.

Both events reportedly received the highest profits of late this year albeit still missing revenue projections. The city’s Office of Cultural Affairs anticipates further growth in 2019 and a path towards self-sufficiency.

“I think it’s possible,” said Alay Medina, nearing her first full year as director of Cultural Affairs. “And I think 2018 has proven it’s possible just in the fact that we’ve made an increase from 2017.”

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A major difference from last year, Medina said, was the addition of a Tulip Fest title sponsor: Citizens Bank. The company will also present next year’s festival.

Last year, Tulip Fest totaled $161,570, about $19,000 short of revenue projections. For Alive at Five, the gap between actuals and estimates was wider: $96,270. The department’s profits total were $150,000 under projections.

Now, department profits are up. The impact of Tulip Fest and Alive at Five on overall numbers is not yet certain (Cultural Affairs organizes a number of programs like Dad Fest, Riverfront Jazz Festival, and the Last Run 5k).

Albany’s Budget Office did not provide exact 2018 revenue figures at press time.

Medina didn’t, either. Some sponsorship payments remain outstanding, she added.

Uncollected revenue aside, the director expects gradual change. “If it took years to move backward, it’s going to take a couple of years to move forward.”

She believes revenue projections should be right-sized to accommodate the department. Estimates have shrunk over $100,000 within the last four years.

Passed last month, the Common Council’s 2019 budget resolution addressed the department’s year-to-year revenue failures as a cause for concern.

The Council also encouraged higher-ups to monitor Cultural Affairs’ progress as the department vies to become “self-sustaining” and “potentially profitable.”

Common Councilwoman Judy Doesschate, who drafted the resolution, singled out Alive at Five and Tulip Fest as areas for improvement.

“When you have bigger events, you have bigger projections,” said Doesschate. “So the variance between 10, 20, or 30 percent starts to mean real money when it comes to balancing the budget.”

Public Financial Management, a private consultancy hired to review the city’s finances, recommended replacing city funding with additional sponsorship money or scaling events back in a 2017 report. “While these events are part of the City’s fabric, they are also not core services of government,” the document stated.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s 2019 budget proposal touted boosts in outside support across the board and branding initiatives targeting sponsorship.

Among fiscal measures, the proposal called for the office to secure multi-year sponsors, grow attendance, seek further revenue opportunities, and examine operational efficiency.

Doesschate said she did speak directly to Medina before drafting the budget resolution.

“I’m not interested in micromanaging that department and saying ‘hey, I think this is what you could do,’” Doesschate said. “I mean, it might be worthwhile for them to have that conversation with a group of people who are interested.”

Medina said revenue growth doesn’t equal successful programming. Ahead, she hopes to increase non-profit partnership, diversity, and attendance.

When asked how she plans to increase diversity for Alive at Five and Tulip Fest next year, Medina was mum on details.

“You can just trust me when I say that everything we have planned is along those veins,” she said.

Tulip Fest falls on May 11 and 12.

Alive at Five is scheduled most Thursdays between June 6 and Aug.1.

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