Westfest may not have support for second year in Rifle | PostIndependent.com

Westfest may not have support for second year in Rifle

John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Colorado – Monday’s meeting regarding the Garfield County Fair and Michael Martin Murphey’s Westfest ended with Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson asking the two dozen folks in attendance if they would be in favor of supporting Westfest for another year.

The consensus of those who attended, representing various boards and committees who were involved in coordinating the events, was that the majority would support another signature event similar to Westfest; however, less than half voted in support of bringing Westfest back to the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle for a second year.

“We seem to be hung on being bound to Westfest and Michael Martin Murphey,” said fair board president Jimmy Smith. “If you were to ask the same question of a similar event, who would go for that?”

That question received a yes vote from nearly everyone in attendance. The consensus of the five groups in attendance including the Board of Garfield County Commissioners, Rifle City Council, The Garfield County Fair board, the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce and the 4-H Extension office, was in support of a more locally controlled signature event similar to Westfest.

The BOCC and county staff did not participate in the vote and left the decision up to the other groups involved.

“The consensus seems to be supporting a more local event and leave the advertising and organizing in local hands,” said County Commissioner John Martin.

Martin began the meeting asking organizers of this year’s county fair and Westfest what worked and what didn’t. Most agreed that hiccups in advertising, contracting procurement, communication and coordination between organizations and governments were all less than stellar, and were too much to overcome by the time the two events came around in the first two weeks in August.

“One of the things that needs to work better is communication between everyone at the county level and the fair board,” said fair board vice president Jim Sheets. Smith added that it’s important to get a contract in place before June, to allow adequate time to inform people of what is going on at the fair.

Garfield County contributed $150,000 to Westfest, while the city of Rifle contributed $20,000; $10,000 from the Visitor Improvement Fund, and in-kind donations through additional police services and other associated costs from the remaining funds. The Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce also contributed some advertising funds, as well as the Rifle Citizen Telegram and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent who contributed $1,100 in advertising for the event.

But according to Dale Hancock, Garfield County director of general services, Westfest was a bust. The county hoped for 4,000 people to attend per day, but only 2,400 total tickets were sold for the three-day event.

“It not only fell short, it fell on its nose,” Hancock said.

The $150,000 the county paid for Westfest included a provision that Wildfire Productions would do its own marketing for the event. Additionally, the county paid $49,000 to a Denver-based firm called Watermark Advertising to market the county fair, which also saw poor attendance numbers. Several in attendance at the meeting thought that lack of local advertising was a major reason for the poor turnout.

“A lot of our longtime sponsors have a problem when we use outside marketing for the fair,” Smith told county commissioners.

According to Sheets, the fair board wanted to use more local advertising but the money was locked up by an advertising group.

“We wanted things going locally, but it was out of our hands,” Sheets said.

Gabe Chenoweth, MKTS Radio general manager, told the group that the local radio station received $500 for advertising of Westfest from promoters. Watermark did spend $1,207.35 on advertising through the Citizen Telegram and Post Independent for both the county fair and Westfest.

The Garfield County Fair lost a reported $85,000 this year, according to Dale Hancock. That was an obvious point of disappointment for Commissioner Martin.

“We’ve got good community activity, but we need to look at trimming that loss,” Martin said.

The consensus was to bring that marketing back to local companies that would do more regional marketing to pull in residents of Garfield and neighboring counties.

One of the best things to come out of Westfest, according to organizers, is at least now they know that they have the volunteer base willing to step up and put on an event of that size.

“Probably the best thing to come out of Westfest, some 120 volunteers,” said Sheets. “That was probably the best single example of community Garfield County has ever had.”

Nita Smith, who was volunteer coordinator for Westfest, said that she has heard that Murphey was interested in bringing Westfest back to Rifle again in 2011, but that things would have to be done differently, in her opinion. Murphey, through his press contact, Lance Cowan, told the Citizen Telegram in August that Murphey was interested in again having Westfest in Rifle.

“We just need to look at a whole other way to do it,” Nita Smith said. “The way we did it this year won’t work.”

County commissioner Tresi Houpt said that while advertising, contracting, communication and coordination are all important to the success of these events, it’s important to also be realistic when it comes to the budget.

The next step is to form a committee with representatives from each of the groups involved and develop ideas of what events they would like to see in 2011, and implement a plan.

“We’ve got to work with the individual committees and come up with a game plan,” Martin said.

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