End the music festival

Palm Beach Post Editorial
Saturday, May 17, 2008

Last week, the Riviera Beach Council accepted $50,000 from Palm Beach County to partially offset the estimated $300,000 deficit from last month's annual music festival. This week, as a 10-person city delegation attended a National League of Cities conference in Savannah, Ga., frustrated taxpayers would have been justified in wishing that those officials had kept going - and taken the festival with them.

This eighth year was supposed to be when the city's signature event formerly known as the jazz festival finally was to at least break even. Yet at last count, the city had spent $635,718 against $256,907 in revenue, not counting the county money.

The problem? Rather than refine the original concept of spotlighting its beachfront by booking regional talent and a top draw or two, the city has tried for too many big names. Having failed to bag promised sponsorships, the festival again fleeced not only vendors but ticket-buyers, at $40 for what began as a $20-ish, family-friendly event. This year, the weather cooperated, but the Saturday night headliner, Teena Marie, was supposed to draw ... who? As for Sunday, are churchgoers really going to go home, change clothes and go to the beach for high-priced gospel music? The low turnout says no.

Maybe an internal auditor and audit committee, which the council is considering as a way to improve financial controls, would help. Such a system has worked in West Palm Beach and at school districts. Either way, the public should be able to see the final attendance and revenue totals from Riviera's April 11-13 festival before West Palm Beach's SunFest, which took place this month.

Several factors, some beyond the city's control, have combined to stall, shrink and possibly threaten Riviera Beach's grand downtown waterfront redevelopment. That, at least, was a big project. Even the best-run cities don't always pull off the big stuff.

But the music festival should be manageable. Riviera Beach officials have blustered about more success than ever this year, but they are avoiding reality. The city should drop the event rather than continue to burden taxpayers. The only way the council might justify continuing the festival would be if it were run by a not-for-profit, like the one that operates SunFest. The public no longer should have to watch Riviera Beach go through the motions on its biggest stage.