Future of Garlic Fest, special events up for discussion

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By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor
The fate of Delray Beach’s Garlic Fest is scheduled to be decided by commissioners on July 5.
A special events task force denied the 18th annual event its permits to take place in February 2017 because there is a tennis tournament that takes place that month. Commissioners have asked to limit downtown events to one major event per month.
The new policies for how the city handles special events have been in the works and the new procedures were set to go into effect for events occurring after Oct. 1. Commissioners haven’t adopted a final version of the policies. The Delray Newspaper covered the topic of special events in its April edition.
Event producer Nancy Stewart filed the appeal to commissioners asking to allow her to have Garlic Fest on her requested dates at Old School Square. She proposed several changes to the event including not closing any roads, eliminating carnival rides and allowing residents to enter the festival for free on one of the days.
Her appeal was heard last month, but with Mayor Cary Glickstein absent from the meeting commissioners couldn’t agree on a decision.
Commissioner Shelly Petrolia said she agreed with the committee’s decision to deny the event because it was a directive commissioners have been pushing for. “We are at a cross roads and we can finally make a difference,” she said. “We need to adhere to the rules we put in place.”
Commissioners Jordana Jarjura and Mitch Katz were willing to compromise to find a way to allow the event to take place, but after several rounds of proposals a majority of commissioners couldn’t agree. Jarjura proposed permitting the event to take place if Stewart agreed it would the only appeal she would make, but she revoked her motion after it was unclear if Stewart would agree.
It didn’t matter because a majority of commissioners didn’t agree. Dozens of Garlic Fest lovers and volunteers, who raise money from the event, told commissioners how important the event is to them. The event has raised nearly $600,000 for local nonprofits over its existence. Local students told commissioners how the event helps offset costs for things like band uniforms.
“The real question isn’t whether we want to kill the Garlic Fest,” Commissioner Al Jacquet said. “The truth is we have been dealing with this issue for years. How many times do we close the street? What are the traffic and congestion issues? And restaurants are telling us they don’t make money at those times. The city is trying to come up with a solution. We aren’t trying to kill anything. We are trying to preserve and protect the downtown. We are trying to strike a balance.”
The new rules also show that hosting a special event, festival or marathon race in Delray could be getting pricier. Under the proposal, the amount event producers will have to pay the city to host an event could more than triple.
The prices proposed for events are based on a “full-cost recovery” model that commissioners requested the city implement to make sure the city receives back what it costs the city to hold the event. In a chart listing the estimates of what the city would charge for certain events, the costs significantly increase from 2015 to 2016 and into 2017.
The Jingle Bell Jog is slated to go from $4,661 in 2015 to $7,971 in 2016; the Howard Alan art show in October would increase from $6,021 in 2015 to $18,180 in 2016 and the November show from $6,072 to $17,362; Wine and Seafood festival would go from $15,557 to $41,833; Garlic Fest from $27,458 this year to $60,705 in 2017. A half marathon scheduled for March 2017 would cost $95,581.
“We realize these costs would make a dramatic increase and have advised the Commission,” City Manager Don Cooper said in an email to Stewart. “I would point the increase is due to the city not recovering its costs in the past.”
An email from Chief Financial Officer Jack Warner to Stewart states the city is also considering reaching back to charge for the actual costs of events that have been recently held.
Some of the events, like the marathons, are fundraisers for charities. Wine and Seafood and Delray Affair are some of the biggest fundraisers for the city’s Chamber of Commerce. With the increase of prices, it is likely the organizations will not be able to raise the same amount of money they have in years past. Old School Square also makes money off of renting its space.
Commissioners say their inboxes are flooded with complaints about events. But a public records request for emails pertaining to special events held over the past year indicate less than a dozen emails are complaints.
One email comes from Del Prado Elementary inviting the mayor to the unveiling of a life-size painted panther, which was paid for by funds from the Garlic Fest. The teacher explains without the money the art project would not have happened.
Several of the most recent emails found in our request are from Petrolia, who tells the city manager to “shut down the festivals planned to run all over Old School Square” and not dedicate city staff or resources to any relocation of events.
She said, “Festivals have drawn the biggest overall negative feedback since my election (only recently surpassed by sober
homes.)”