Dealing with for-profit events at Head Lake Park

By Chad Ingram

Published  March 5 2019

Dysart et al council will be looking at the township’s fee structure with an eye to what the organizers of for-profit events at Head Lake Park should be paying to the municipality.

Councillors discussed the matter during a Feb. 26 meeting as a report regarding the return of Haliburton RibFest to Head Lake Park came to the council table.

RibFest took place for the first time last summer and was a popular draw attracting about 5600 people to the park between Aug. 24 and 26. It is scheduled to return this year from Aug. 9 to 11 but as Councillor Larry Clarke told his colleagues the municipality’s events and recreation committee would like to see the municipality realize more revenue from such a large and popular event.

Last year the organizer gave the municipality a $2500 donation from gate proceeds toward its new skateboard park. The company would also like to grow RibFest with more vendors into an event that might attract as many as 10000 people. While in 2018 there were two rib vendors and about 10 non-food vendors the plan for 2019 is to have three rib vendors and as many as 20 non-food vendors.

Along with the municipality getting a bigger slice of the financial pie Clarke said there are other concerns.

“Our concern is we already have issues around parking for big events down at Head Lake Park and we’d like to see some of that addressed first before we green-light somebody growing an event” Clarke told his colleagues.

Another issue is access to potable water which is required by rib vendors for cooking and cleaning and which last year was taken from the Rails End Gallery.

“They were able to access some water through the Rails End Gallery but that’s not a great solution” Clarke said. The committee is recommending the event organizer make its own arrangements for potable water for vendors. The RibFest organizer will also provide more portable toilets and more lighting this year a report from the committee indicates.

“The other thing we discussed with them is contribution” Clarke said. “At this point in time the municipality hasn’t got a fee system in place for use of Head Lake Park.”

Clarke said there was recognition that some events are run by community groups such at the Rotary Club which was responsible for the construction of the park’s band shell.

“The park is a very valuable asset for this community” Clarke said. “ . . . We still see as not being a profit centre that’s not what we’re looking at but what we’d like to see is some money recovered from some of the events there so that we can improve that facility.”

“The other pushback that we’ve been getting is the fact that some of the local residents count on the park as their main access to the lake” Clarke continued. “We’re very cognizant of the fact that it is a community resource. On one hand we’re trying to drive community events that bring in cottagers and bring in local residents to attend events. On the other hand we’re also trying to provide an environment that locals can use a natural site.”

Along with RibFest there are number of other events that take place in the park that include barricading it from regular use.

Clarke said the committee has asked the organizer to consider giving the municipality a percentage say 20 per cent of the gate proceeds as a contribution. Dysart et al is also looking to reduce the use of disposable plastic water bottles and has asked the organizer to reconsider the sale of such bottles in the future. The township plans to purchase drinking water stations to be placed in the park.

“Is there a timetable to get a commitment from them in terms of how much they’re going to contribute to our community and in terms of water the sale of plastic bottles?” asked Councillor John Smith.

“It would be part of our regulations or for use of the park that they abide by our local guidelines so that’s going to go be discussion once it’s in place is kind of the way we’re approaching it” Clarke said.
It’s unclear as of yet whether water stations would be in place in time for this year’s event.

“In terms of the dollar value it’s a difficult thing to call” Clarke said indicating that the amount taken from a cut of gate proceeds could fluctuate greatly depending on the weather. “So in terms of . . . we’re throwing it back we’ve asked for a higher percentage of the gate revenue . . . those numbers too are still up in the air.”

Clarke said the plan is to develop a framework that would require a certain percentage of gate proceeds from for-profit events those proceeds put into a fund for park enhancements. Clarke said the committee also recognized there was also sensitivity around the fact that event organizers are charging an admission fee to enter a publicly owned park.

“I think the park as you say is very valuable to our community” said Councillor Walt McKechnie. “I’m a firm believer that in this day and age you don’t get anything for nothing and I think we should be charging more than we are charging for all events.”

McKechnie said the RibFest was a great event that was good for the community but that much of the money made at the event went out of town. He said he supported putting together a formal fee framework for use of the park for different events and putting that money into a reserve for park enhancements.

Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy pointed out that some organizations that refer to themselves as non-profit may have a for-profit aspect to them.

“They blew into Haliburton cut a cheque for 2500 bucks and took the rest out” Kennedy said of the RibFest group. “So are they are non-profit or are they a for-profit? It’s a question that needs to be answered. If they’re a non-profit that has whole different parameters on what you’re going to charge.”

Mayor Andrea Roberts said the municipality could ask for a donation again for 2019 with the knowledge that the following year a formal fee structure would be in place.

“I thought we’d be a little more aggressive or assertive” said Smith adding the municipality should be taking a percentage of the gate proceeds. “The real money is made on the beer and the ribs and stuff that they’re selling.”

“They’re making big bucks out of this” Smith said.