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Free outdoor festivals are at risk says head of Montreal’s jazz festival

Click to play video: 'Victim of its own success'
Victim of its own success
WATCH: For the last ten years, developers and the city of Montreal have worked together to build up the Quartier des Spectacles in Montreal. New restaurants, stores and condos are popping up but that success is coming at a price. As Global's Amanda Jelowicki explains, these improvements are cutting in to the Jazz Festival's profits – Feb 25, 2019

Leaders from some of the most popular annual, outdoor festivals in Montreal are sounding the alarm over their future, saying the success of the Quartier des Spectacles is actually harming, not helping them.

Jacques-André Dupont, head of the Montreal International Jazz Festival and CEO of L’Equipe Spectra, published an open letter this week about the issue. Eight other organizations are co-signatories, including Tourism Montreal and the Just for Laughs Fest.

“The loss is real both on the site side and the money side,” Dupont said. “We created the Quartier des Spectacles for the festivals. We need to find a way so they can stay here.”

Dupont says $1.5 billion has been invested in the area around Place des Arts in the last decade. That includes a $200-million investment from the city of Montreal. Condos, shops and restaurants have gone up, and the area is booming.

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But all that buzz is actually hurting the many festivals held in the Quartier des Spectacles. Dupont says 40 festivals take place in the area throughout the year.

With the rise in local restaurants, tourists are spending less at concession stands. Revenues are down 16 per cent and rampant development means fewer open spaces for free outdoor concerts and events.

The jazz festival used to take up one million square feet of space Now it’s down to half that. Dupont says what’s at risk is the free component of many of these festivals.

“We are saying there is a little problem that no one saw coming. Now we are saying we want to solve it before it becomes a big problem,” he said.

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Mayor Valérie Plante says the city holds regular discussions with festival organizers over the issue.

Whether they’ll get more money though, remains unclear.

“We already give them money, the city contributes financially to the different festivals as well as all the technical support, police officers, traffic, all these things, which are expensive,” she said. “For me, it’s how do we work together, to find more resources for them…and to be creative in terms of different types of financial resources.”

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Festival organizers believe it will take at least two years to strike some sort of financial deal with the city. They say until then the free component of these festivals should be okay. But after that, there is no guarantee.

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