News

Big plans for Korean festival

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

The Federal Way City Council has given the green light to a Korean cultural and sports festival they hope will rival large cultural celebrations in other major cities.

Despite some council members’ concerns about the steep allocation of lodging tax revenue to one event, the majority voted to form a work group of local Korean and non-Korean business and community leaders who will lay the groundwork for hosting the first festival in late spring 2005.

City officials last year used lodging tax revenue to hire an event planning consultant to find a signature event that would set Federal Way apart and draw large numbers of people to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants during the event.

The event planner looked at what niches exist in Federal Way and suggested a Korean festival. Not only is there a large Korean community here, the event planner said, but Federal Way is situated centrally to Korean communities in neighboring cities. And there aren’t any other large Korean-related events in the state.

While the festival will probably start with modest corporate sponsorship and an attendance of 5,000 to 10,000 people, city officials want it to have a national and perhaps international draw. By the third year, they want big-name, international sponsors and up to 20,000 attendees.

Startup costs coming from lodging tax revenue would be substantial — $225,000 for the first year, though grants and sponsorships probably would bring the city’s share closer to $175,000, according to city official.

But Patrick Doherty, the city’s deputy director of community development, said planners expect the cost of running the festival in the future to drop to about 10 percent, or $25,000, of the initial expense by the third year.

In addition, preliminary estimates of the money attendees could bring into the city range from $200,000 the first year to $400,000 the third year.

The festival could have added benefits to the city, Doherty said. It could enhance the community’s image locally and nationally, increase the range of attractions for visitors, and increase Federal Way’s role in Korean and Pacific Rim trade.

Planners want to offer a festival with traditional and popular sports and cultural events that would attract a broad base of people across ages and genders.Cultural events could include music, dance, art, film and food, with big events –– a concert, dance troupe or film festival –– potentially ticketed separately.

Athletic events could include tae kwon do masters exhibition matches, Korean-American soccer championships and Korean golf stars, with headliners including playoffs or tournaments.

The event would probably be headquartered in a specially made tent that would include performance space and exhibits, and other events would be held throughout the city.

As proposed, an events planning and production company will run the event the first year, with a part-time city staff person and a volunteer committee on board to learn the ropes.

After the first year, the production company would hand the reins to an as-yet unformed non-profit organization and a part-time city employee to continue running the festival with help from lodging tax revenue. The staff person’s salary also would be paid with lodging tax revenue.

The production company would continue to serve on a consultant basis as needed by the non-profit organization.

Though the festival sounds like a good idea, Councilman Jim Ferrell said, he’s opposed to spending that much money on one event.

“There’s a million different things you can do,” he said. “I’d be more comfortable with more corporate sponsorship so they’re stakeholders. If the city fronts all the money, there’s no incentive for people to buck up on their own.”

The $176,000 budgeted for the first year will deplete the city’s remaining lodging tax revenue next year. But Councilman Eric Faison pointed out there will be more lodging tax revenue the following year, when costs associated with the festival are expected to drop.

Faison said the lodging tax “generates about $150,000 a year. After next year, the city’s contribution declines to $30,000. That leaves $120,000. It gobbles up the first year, but not every single year for ever and ever. And it will bring in lodging tax revenue.”

In addition to his concerns about the cost, Ferrell said he’d like to meet with the city’s Diversity Commission members to see if they have concerns about a festival that focuses on just one culture.

“We have a very diverse community, with people of all ethnic backgrounds,” he said.

Councilman Jack Dovey disagreed, saying it’s a business issue, not a cultural issue.

“We hired a consultant to find a market niche,” he said.

Faison agreed. “It’s not a diversity issue,” he said.

Mayor Dean McColgan, who ultimately voted against moving forward with the festival at the council meeting May 18, said the council has big budget decisions ahead of it, even though the festival money won’t be coming from the city’s already strapped operating budget.

“It sounds like the rub is $170,000 on one event,” McColgan said, “and it exhausts the (lodging tax) budget. I guess the fear is if the budget is used up, will there be enough to fund later events? It’s exactly what we asked for –– a large, signature event for Federal Way. Now, it looks like an issue of the revenue.”

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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