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Councillor sees tension in Edmonton’s events strategy

The Edmonton International Fringe Festival.
The Edmonton International Fringe Festival. Marc J Chalifoux, Edmonton International Fringe Festival

City council will debate a big picture concept on big events next week.

The approach is one Councillor Scott McKeen said he’s having trouble wrapping his head around. Next week’s review will look at all things that attract travellers to the city.

Should Edmonton stay faithful to old favourites or invest money in something more high profile?

READ MORE: Edmonton summer festivals sizzle, despite shaky Alberta economy

“There’s a tension between home-run events and then the city spending money to attract an event like Crashed Ice,” McKeen said in an interview Thursday.

“Folk Fest and Fringe and Silver Skate — these guys work their tail off with really limited budgets and build year over year over year, but I think they’re always under threat of collapsing,” he said.

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“Because how much can you rely on volunteers year after year? How much can you strain that budget to do things?”

READ MORE: Edmonton Fringe Festival breaks ticket sales record yet again

Members of council’s community services committee heard from presenters late Wednesday afternoon but didn’t have any time to debate a report on the city’s Event Growth and Attraction Strategy, so all of council will pick up the conversation next Tuesday.

McKeen said he’d like to see tried and true festivals get more attention so they become both regional and even Western Canadian tourist attractions.

“That is a really neat proposition for the economy and for the hotels and restaurants and everybody — versus bringing in Red Bull Crashed Ice, that was a huge hit right? But a lot of the money leaves the community then.”

READ MORE: Big events in Edmonton bring city new visitors and prestige

He said he wants to hear from the business community and others, after remembering long-time advice from the former head of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), Brad Ferguson, and City of Edmonton economist John Rose. He said both told him to never back away from staging events for two reasons:

“A — there is an economic multiplier, and B — when times are tough, I think we all need to get together and celebrate or party,” McKeen said.

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The Edmonton events strategy identifies four pillars: sport and cultural attractions, festivals, meetings and conventions, and trade shows and exhibitions.

The report, that will be debated Tuesday, opens the possibility of a new way of funding events.

“Legislative changes through the Big City Charter are being explored to better balance public and private support for events that offer economic and reputation benefits,” it reads.

READ MORE: FISE makes case for Edmonton extension but budget is tight

The agenda item comes as FISE, the extreme sports event that was in Louise McKinney Park in September but drew only 50,000 spectators over three days.

“I would suspect that FISE is in jeopardy, you know, just because of the numbers,” McKeen said.

“I was intrigued by the demographic it reaches. It’s a different sub-culture and a different age group but that’ll be tough for council to support that, I think.”

Edmonton Event Growth and Attraction Strategy by Emily Mertz on Scribd