This weekend’s Chandler Jazz Festival is being scaled back because of city budget cuts, despite record attendance last year, and officials say without increased corporate sponsorship, next year’s event could be in jeopardy.
But even though this weekend’s festival will be only two days instead of three, downtown business owners expect business to be brisk.
“This is probably one of the three or four best weekends of the year in downtown Chandler,” said Dennis Minchella, owner of the Kokopelli Winery & Bistro, 35 W. Boston St.
The free jazz fest, now in its 10th year, is slated for Friday night and Saturday, with the main stage in Dr. A.J. Chandler Park, on the west side of Arizona Avenue, south of Chandler Boulevard. Businesses throughout the downtown are slated to host performances, as well.
Bart Salzman, the event’s founder, said the ongoing economic downturn could throw the festival’s future into question.
“I’m scared stiff that it’s not going to happen next year because of the cutbacks,” Salzman said. “I just get the feeling the budget is going to be slashed.”
The jazz fest needs someone with expertise in finding corporate sponsorship, he said. In its nascent years, the festival garnered sponsors such as Motorola and Wells Fargo.
“We are looking for sponsors,” Salzman said.
Hermelinda Llamas, the city’s special events coordinator, said Chandler contributed $75,000 to the jazz fest last year, but this year city funding has been reduced to $55,000 because of budget woes. Officials have said the city is facing a $21.5 million shortfall next fiscal year. Attempts to close that gap, as mandated by state law, have the city shedding jobs and cutting services.
Because of the cutbacks, the festival’s future is uncertain, although no decision on funding the event next year has been made, Llamas said.
“It could be (cut), but right now we’re hopeful that it’s not,” she said.
Still, expectations remain high for a strong turnout at this weekend’s festival. Last year’s event attracted a record crowd of 20,000 people over three days, Llamas said. This year is expected to bring about 12,000 people over two days, she said.
Salzman said evening performances generally attract a mature audience that’s well educated, with higher incomes. Most come from Chandler, with others coming from across the Valley and from Tucson, and a few from out of state.
Those jazz enthusiasts tend to be attracted to upscale shops and restaurants like those of downtown Chandler, he said.
“I’m certainly told by merchants that this is the biggest revenue weekend we have each year,” he said.
Performances earlier in the day attract more families, Salzman said.
Llamas said downtown merchants report a significant uptick in business during the festival.
“All of them tended to say they were constantly busy all weekend,” she said.
The event helps Chandler’s tourism image, too, Llamas said.
“It does put us on the map,” she said. “It’s building a reputation and a following.”