Dover to fund ITV festival after Selectboard's initial hesitation


DOVER -- When Independent Television and Film Festival organizer Phil Gilpin Jr. went before the Selectboard, there was some hesitation to approve funding for the 2014 event, which Gilpin said would in part go towards paying some vendors and outstanding bills from the last event.

Last month's ITVFest 2013 was reported to bring in about 670 overnight visitors and 78 day visitors.

Dover Economic Development Specialist Ken Black measured those numbers against estimates from the Vermont Department of Tourism, which states that about $149.40 is generated for food and lodging, in towns and cities from each overnight visitor.

On Oct. 15, Black said that roughly $330,000 had been brought into the town as a result of the festival and the local option tax had to be considered as well.

"That's a pretty good return especially for the first year," Black added.

Currently, Gilpin has reported an internal revenue loss of around $40,000 on the event. He told the Reformer that part of that loss was due to the lack of local participation. Money had been spent on local advertising and marketing efforts in southern Vermont, which were not considered immediately successful.

"For next year's plan, we took that piece out," he said.

Gilpin believes that by taking that out of the campaign, the budget expenses will shrink. In general, the outside markets such as Boston and New York were more responsive to the festival.

But Black said Gilpin was given carte blanche by the festival's founder A.J. Tesler, who found the event held in Deerfield Valley to be a success. Black recommended that the board supports ITVFest again and that money be taken from line items for telecommunications and broadband, which likely would not be used, if necessary.

"This was a good event," said Black. "I think it will do more the next time around and it can grow significantly."

Gilpin thanked the board and the Economic Development Department for being the first to buy in last year. He confirmed that some of the funding would go towards paying off vendors and other bills that had accumulated.

Dover Selectboard Chairman Randy Terk wanted to see side-by-side analysis of this year's projected numbers and this year's actual numbers so that when other applicants come to the board requesting money, the documents could be clearly presented. He said it would be fairly unusual for the town to fund an event in this manner.

"I'm concerned about the funding," he added. "It should be for the 2014 event. And what certainty is there, that there will be a 2014 event?"

If the board chose to wait to fund the event, Gilpin claimed it would have forced him to pause his efforts, which would negatively affect the festival's momentum. One concern of his had been advertising. If he had funds now, he'd be able to advertise for the event earlier than last year.

"This event isn't something that takes a few weeks or months," said Gilpin. "It's a 365-days-a-year business venture."

He went on to say that he could potentially produce four to five full-time jobs in town if he could get the festival off the ground.

"Unfortunately, I had to piecemeal this together week by week, sponsor by sponsor," said Gilpin.

He claimed the town had been the recipient of the greatest return on investment. With the festival already accepting submissions and the fees its applicants pay, Gilpin believes that there is a very low probability that the festival not return next year.

Two submissions had already been sent in. One had come from the Middle East and one from Los Angeles, Gilpin told the board.

He said "if for some magical reason," the sponsors fell through, there would still be a natural revenue stream through submission fees and ticket sales.

"The question isn't, ‘Is it going to generate revenue?'" said GIlpin. "If I don't have funds now, I have to hit the pause button for two, maybe three or four months. Then the train starts to slow. While this is going to bills currently here, we don't know if this event brought in a $40,000 loss."

He advocated for this funding because he wanted to get his team back into the office as soon as possible.

Gilpin told the board that there were bills due at the end of October. Selectboard member Victoria Capitani said she was worried that the 75 percent of $20,000 that is allowed to be given to the applicant upfront would not be enough buy-in from the town.

"You were the first ones in the boat," said Gilpin. "That gave me the ability to go to sponsors and say, ‘The town's in the boat, get in the boat with us.' If you don't go in first, it might not just be not getting your sponsorship. It's going to put a lot of pressure on other sponsors. It may be a useless amount of extra work to convince other sponsors."

Terk wanted to be clear on the numbers, especially the town's return on investment.

"There's no direct return," he said. "Although you included that in your analysis, we're not here to make money. We're here for economic development to promote those activities, those events, the park, the Internet and fiber optics. So, to say we had a $300,000 return, that also implies some of the businesses should be stepping up to be sponsors as well."

Selectboard member Linda Holland made a motion based on Black's recommendation to award up to $20,000 for the 2014 event. The board continued to discuss the decision.

"I don't like getting backed up into a corner," said Capitani. "We don't loan money to people for these types of things. We all support it. I just hate getting pushed into a corner. It's a tough situation. In another scenario, you could be getting more."

Black suggested that the town's funding may be a way for Gilpin to "overcome the deficit but also wind up with more money."

When it was suggested that Gilpin rewrite the application, Terk said the board should not attempt to suggest how a rewritten application should be formulated or what dollar amount should be asked for.

"My hesitation is just the vagueness of what's being presented and that it seems we are not getting an assurance other than your good word that the event will occur next year," he said. "I think it could be reworked, such that you might find there was more support in terms of dollars."

The Selectboard ultimately approved the requested funding. When the idea of Gilpin coming back to the table for more money was brought up, the board thought there were no rules against it.

The approval was met with a loud applause from local residents and the small business community, who came out to support ITVFest 2014.

The next day, Gilpin told the Reformer that he was very happy with the decision

"Now, we get to start building for next year's event," he said. "I think it was the best outcome for the festival and I believe it's going to keep the momentum going."

Gilpin said he had already talked to two interested sponsors after confirming the town's participation and has no intentions to ask the town for more funding.

"It's not part of my plan," he said. "It's not something I want to do. The goal with this event and any event in the valley is to have them be self funding and self sustaining as soon as possible. I think that six to eight months from now, right before we get into the event next year, that it will be fine on its own. I don't think it's going to be necessary."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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