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Do Coachman Park concerts make or cost Clearwater money? The city doesn't know

Parks and Recreation manages two overall spending accounts that support special events but doesn't track exact revenues and expenses of each concert and festival.
LUIS SANTANA   |   Times
Lil Skies performs on stage at Wild 94.1’s Wild Splash concert at Coachman Park in last March.
LUIS SANTANA | Times Lil Skies performs on stage at Wild 94.1’s Wild Splash concert at Coachman Park in last March.
Published Feb. 6, 2019

CLEARWATER — The city is now spending $41,000 on a market study to determine what kind of performance pavilion on the revamped downtown waterfront the Tampa Bay market would support and what it could cost to operate when the city completes its $50 million Imagine Clearwater redevelopment.

So it begs the question: Are city-hosted concerts and festivals in the existing Coachman Park making or costing taxpayers money today?

The Parks and Recreation Department cannot answer that because it is not auditing all costs and revenues of individual events, Director Kevin Dunbar confirmed.

Instead of tracking exact profits and losses for individual concerts and festivals as they occur, the Parks and Recreation Department is just managing two overall spending accounts that support special events in the city.

Parks and Recreation has a special revenue fund of about $200,000 that is tapped to pay upfront for concert and festival expenses, like deposits for performers. It is replenished with revenues the department collects from events, like ticketing and concessions. The balance fluctuates throughout the year but the mandate is for Parks and Recreation officials to manage the fund so they don't need to ask the City Council for more money, Finance Director Jay Ravins said.

"It doesn't really matter what the balance is at any point in time as long as they've got working capital in that to cover their needs and not come back to the city saying 'we need more money,'" Ravins said.

Other overhead costs incurred for hundreds of events citywide - from salaries of employees who staff 5K runs to equipment rentals for festivals in Coachman Park - are paid for with roughly $1 million allocated every year from the general fund. Unlike the special revenue fund, this spending account is not meant to be reimbursed.

"That's kind of a cost that the city budgets for every year as the city's support of special events for the citizens," Ravins said.

Parks and Recreation keeps rough estimates of the revenues and expenditures for individual events in Coachman Park, but these estimates are not audited and are not comprehensive, Dunbar said.

After the Tampa Bay Times requested profit and loss reports for all concerts and festivals the city hosted or co-hosted in Coachman Park over the past two years, Dunbar, Ravins and Assistant City Manager Micah Maxwell acknowledged the 13 event reports Parks and Recreation provided to the newspaper were not reliable. For example, the Clearwater Police Department spent $17,580 supporting the 2018 Sea Blues Festival but Parks and Recreation's accounting sheet did not reflect that expense for the event.

The accounting sheet the city initially provided for the 2018 Sea Blues festival showed a $12,643 profit.

After the Times questioned the accuracy of the reports, the city provided a revised report showing a $19,119 loss with adjustments made to sound and stage expenses and staffing costs. A city sponsorship of $33,690 initially recorded helped boost the event sheet to reflect a profit. It was then removed because not all expenses had been calculated on the sheet.

Dunbar said he has not been tracking individual events because his responsibility is to make sure the overall special events fund, which pays for events throughout the city, is managed and that the fluctuating special revenue fund of about $200,000 for concerts and festivals is reconciled.

"The litmus test that we've always used is where we are at at the end of the year as it relates to our mandate of where we're supposed to be with the dollars in that fund," Dunbar said.

But records show the city's special events fund has overruns. The fund had $963,010 allocated in 2018 but the department spent $1.1 million on special events. The fund had $881,280 allocated in 2017 but spent $947,917. The difference is made up through savings in other portions of Parks and Recreation's overall budget, Dunbar said.

Maxwell said accurate profit and loss reports for concerts and festivals in Coachman Park should be done to understand the impacts to the city. Last week, the city promoted Parks and Recreation senior accountant Reynold Choo Chew to Controller to provide professional accounting support to the department.

Maxwell said staff is working now to provide accurate concert data to Webb Management Services, the consulting team that will conduct the eight-week market analysis for Imagine Clearwater's concert pavilion.

Completion of the final design of Imagine Clearwater's 66 waterfront acres has been stalled while officials debate the specifics of the concert pavilion.

The City Council approved the conceptual plan for Imagine Clearwater in February 2017 and Stantec consultants delivered the preliminary design in June 2018.

The design, presented to the public in August, included a modest band shell similar to what exists today in Coachman Park with no covering to shield patrons from sun and rain.

Only after then-Ruth Eckerd Hall CEO Zev Buffman in August said the city was blowing a chance fill a void in the Tampa Bay market for a boutique amphitheater covering at least 4,000 seats did the City Council direct consultants to rethink the pavilion design.

After consultants presented renderings for a 4,250 seat covered pavilion in January, the City Council agreed they needed a market analysis to help them make a final design decision. The $41,000 study will be paid for within the $834,238 budgeted for Stantec consultants, of which $488,089 has been spent as of this week, according to budget manager Kayleen Kastel.

Maxwell said a market analysis was not conducted before the preliminary design was completed in June because a boutique performance pavilion was never part of the original plan.

The conceptual plan, which was created based on public feedback from seven townhall meetings in 2016, did not offer a detailed design for an amphitheater, but suggested "the green and waterfront should first and foremost function as an open space for Clearwater residents."

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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