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Cactus Fest changes to face new realities

By Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News

Dundas’s historic Cactus Festival faces a number of changes to deal with new realities of operating free events in the City of Hamilton.

Incoming director David Longo said the city no longer provides a variety of in-kind services to festivals in Hamilton, forcing organizers of those events to pay for everything from policing and garbage pick-up to road closures.

Longo said the 38-year-old event will change significantly to accommodate those new challenges. While costs continue to increase, revenues remain stagnant – and that’s one of the things Longo said has to change.

“I figure there are about $8,000 to $10,000 in services I need that the city can’t provide and I have to pay for now,” Longo said. “Right now, I don’t have a means to pay for it.”

But he knew the impact was coming and he’s been planning for it. After a couple of community meetings, discussions with several city departments, a meeting with the Downtown Dundas BIA coming up and a planned meeting with councillor Russ Powers, Longo expects to announce several changes in a couple of weeks.

He didn’t get into specifics in an interview last week, but suggested shrinking the festival’s “footprint” could result in economies of scale, and a savings to the festival.

Longo said there could be gala-style Cactus Festival events that involve buying a ticket.

He pointed out the festival spent more than $7,000 on programming – events and performances that are free to the public – just four years ago. That dropped to just over $3,000 last year as more of the festival’s steady, but stagnant, budget had to be spent on services previously provided for free.

“Some of the services won’t be there. I have to pay for them,” Longo said,

About 60 per cent of Cactus Fest’s revenue comes from vendors, and that money doesn’t make its way into the event’s bank account until closer to the August kickoff – leaving little cash on hand for up-front expenses throughout the year.

Longo noted closing down municipal parking lots for the midway rides incurs a cost and eliminates parking for library visitors and downtown shoppers, and forces the farmer’s market out.

But Longo said he isn’t ready to say goodbye to the midway, as it provides one of the few steady sources of revenue the festival currently receives every year.

Overall, he’s been looking for ways to lower the festival’s infrastructure costs while increasing revenues.

“There are more announcements coming,” Longo said. “I’m really excited.”

He said all festivals should be responding to the changing climate in Hamilton, or they won’t survive.

Longo would like to see an event in support of both the Cactus Festival and the effort to create an EcoPark stretching from the Desjardins Canal to Pleasantview. If that happens, he said a donation would be made to the park effort while some money would help the Cactus Festival recover costs.

Longo also would like the Cactus Festival Parade and the festival itself, currently two separate events with their own organizing committees, work more closely together. He said the parade will face the same growing economic challenges, with fewer opportunities to recover costs.

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