The mood was a little different, Council wasn’t as negative but the Sound of Music folks still have a struggle on their hands

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  March 6, 2012  And the music played on.

Dave Miller, Executive Director of the Sound of Music Festival (SOM)

A lazy, hazy early summer evening on the lakefront - sweet music, cold beer and the entry price is just right.

took his case to a budget committee once again.  This time he wore a suit and they had a projector that worked for him and he was able to talk about his numbers but they still took a pass.  But it wasn’t as blunt a pass as his first attempt to get the city to pony up a little more cash. – that qualified as a disaster.

He also brought along a couple of volunteers and the new chair of his board – oddly enough they stayed in the seats in the public gallery; one usually trots them out to hopefully entice a council member to ask them a question or two.

Part of the problem Miller has is  that “show business” is not like any other business.  It chews up a lot of money and everything is on the line until the day of the event – and if it rains – you’re out of luck.

The Festival has a reserve of $400,000 which one would think they could dip into to cover the cost of growing the event.  Better to look at that $400,000 reserve as their “operating” money.  Fees have to be paid, artists want an advance to confirm a booking.  Show business needs that kind of cash in the bank.

Councillor Dennison said he felt he could live with making the grant $17,000 a year over a two year period but Councillor Taylor got crotchety and said based on what he was looking at the Festival made a profit.  And if they made a profit then why did they want more money from the city?  The problem during the second delegation was that the numbers on the committee report weren’t an accurate reflection of SOM’s financial condition.  This is a very successful financial operation that wants to grow the business and would like the city to get on the wagon.

All isn’t lost but Miller is going to have to make a strong business case if he is to get a vote from either Taylor or Lancaster.  Miller has done some of his homework – met with the Council members individually to plead his case.  He still has some work to do but he is beavering away at it.

If he could put together his financials in a format that was simple and direct and show that the Festival is a very financially successful event that brings major dollars into the city.  And if he could manage to convince the people at the Burlington Downtown Business Association to join him at the podium – he might just pull this off.

They are making him jump through hoops and so far Miller has managed to handle most of the questions – but that critical sense of confidence still doesn’t exist within Council.

They stream in by the thousands, all heading for a soft spot on the grass or a seat in the beer tent. The thrill seekers take a spin on the Ferris wheel.

And there is some work to be done on the relationship building side of things as well.  Miller wants to hold another event on a Saturday which makes good business sense but that will mean having all the barriers in place for that second Saturday and the Parks and Recreation people explain that they can’t just leave the barriers sitting out there for a week. “We would have to take them back into storage and then bring them out again and of course take them away again – that’s a lot of work for our people”, explained a Parks official.  However, if the Festival is picking up the cost – shouldn’t matter to the city – should it?

The Festival is a big event and Miller wants to work at having it broadcast which would be quite a coup for the city.  Imagine – the Burlington Sound of Music Festival being broadcast live across the country!  Every one of the seven people at that Council table would stand a little taller and feel quite a bit prouder if the Festival was getting national coverage.

That kind of thing just doesn’t happen.  It takes hours of work; Miller has to cultivate relationships, work angles and convince all kinds of people that this could work and the music is great content for a broadcaster.  That potential isn’t going to happen this year but it is certainly a pony worth putting a couple of bucks on.

Miller doesn’t come across as one of those slick entertainment types that promises everyone whatever they want just as long as he gets what he wants.  He’s a quiet guy who isn’t all that comfortable standing before council explaining things that he hasn’t made all that clear in his written presentation.

This is where perceptive council members can see beyond the presentation and provide the leadership to get the Festival to the next level.  $34,000 over two years to get a shot at broadcasting Burlington to the rest of the country. And we are thinking about taking a pass on that?  Are we crazy?

Might be.  The March 19th Council meeting is their kill date.


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