Grant dispute threatens return of Country SuperFest


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tourism officials are cutting the grant to the organizers Florida Country Superfest, whic could affect the concert's future in Jacksonville.

The Tourist Development Council gave the company a $200,000 reimbursement grant last year. Last week, after reviewing the organizers' request for $300,000 next year, voted to approve only $100,000 for the 2015 show.

Fans attending the two-day country music show at EverBank Field booked 19,000 hotel rooms, resulting in $3.8 million in revenue.

Joel Lamp, city interim director of sports and entertainment, represented New Orleans-based Festival Productions Inc. at the presentation. He said SuperFest could become Jacksonville's fourth annual "iconic" tourism event, joining the Gator Bowl (now Tax Slayer Bowl), the Florida-Georgia football game and The Players.

"Obviously it was a great event," said tourism council member Fred Pozin. "We gave them some seed money last year and it was hugely successful. Now, they're asking for $300,000."

Member M.G. Orender asked how many years the promoter will ask for grant funds from the tourism council, which is in the process of amending its policy to limit "seed money" for new events to three years.

"Our goal is to be done after 2015," Lamp said.

When the $100,000 grant for the second Superfest was proposed, City Council member Richard Clark said it was a "perfect model" for the tourism council.

"Year one, we take a risk; year two, we back down a sizable chunk; year three, they're out of TDC," Clark told the Daily Record.

Visit Jacksonville President and CEO Paul Astleford said reducing the grant for Superfest 2015 may put having the show at EverBank Field in jeopardy. Festival Productions has made no firm commitment to keep the show in Jacksonville.

"The money we give him is his profit," Astleford said. "If we demonstrate we want him here, he's back. If we give him $100,000, he's gone."

Lamp agreed that offering the promoter $100,000 could affect the future of keeping Superfest at EverBank Field.

"He can take it wherever he wants to take it," said Lamp. "$100,000 will make for some difficult conversation."

The promoter issued this statement to News4Jax saying it is still hopeful the convert will return to Jacksonville next year:

"While the funding is less than a major special event like the Florida Country SuperFest warrants, we remain hopeful that additional support will come together to make the 2015 festival another unforgettable weekend in Jacksonville. As soon as more information is available, we will make a detailed announcement about the event."

In other action, the Tourism Development Council approved a $250,000 advertising and marketing grant for The Players Regional Tourism Cooperative and a $65,000 grant to support Student Safety Zones for the Florida-Georgia football game.

Two festivals were successful in seeking funding.

Jaxtoberfest will receive a $25,000 grant for the second year of the fall family festival at the Shipyards property Downtown along the St. Johns River.

The second year of Lannadoo Celtic Festival at Jacksonville Beach was awarded a $20,000 grant.