Q&A: Heritage Park/Holiday Light Show

Recently, I received a question from a resident regarding Heritage Park.  She wanted to know whether or not the park would be closed again this year for the holiday light show. As she correctly pointed out, “The past two years, the city has closed the entire park for about a three month period to accommodate the holiday light show. Last year, the park closed starting around October 12th and remained closed until about January 15th. This is about a 13-week period, so a full 25% of the calendar year.”

As I told her in my response, “Let me start by saying that I agree with you: closing a public park for a quarter of the year is unacceptable.”  And I’m not the only one. Many residents agree, and they’ve voiced their concern over the past year.  When I reached out to Mr. Robbie Davis, Parks and Recreation Director, he said he’d heard and understood this concern and was already working with TRZ to try to keep the park open to the public as long as possible.  TRZ did its part by negotiating with the company responsible for the light show to try to keep the park open longer, with the goal being to close it no longer than one month.  Ultimately, they were unable to reach an agreement to that end, and TRZ decided to forego the holiday lights show this year.

In the words of Mr. Roger Dickson from TRZ, the “park being closed that long for taxpayers is just not the right thing to do.”  And I agree.  It’s a public park; it’s your park.  If it’s closed to all but paying customers for an entire quarter of the year, you’re not getting to make use of your park.

So unfortunately there will be no holiday light show this year, but the park will be open for you, the public, to use…just as it was intended.

Amphitheatre Improvements

Near the end of last year, members of Council and former City Administrator David Dryhaug met with TRZ staff regarding needed improvements to the Amphitheatre.

Since then, the City has continued to take a hard look at the improvements needed, beginning with replacing existing and adding new restroom facilities.

As a result, at the September 26th Committee of the Whole Meeting, City staff recommended that we remove the current restrooms and replace  them with a new, low maintenance facility that would double the capacity. They also recommended we construct a new restroom near the box office that would not only serve the Amphitheatre, but provide facilities to the athletic fields and eliminate the need for Parks and Recreation to rent port-o-lets. These facilities would be constructed of block and concrete floors with metal roofs, which will improve the maintainability and offer a more permanent facility.

Obviously, the optimal time to make such improvements is during the off-season. The new contract with TRZ and their contract with Live Nation presents a great opportunity for Simpsonville by bringing higher caliber shows to the Amphitheatre. Simpsonville stands to make more money than ever before, and our facilities need to reflect our commitment.

Based on an estimate from the Fire Department General Contractor, the estimated cost of the improvements is $350,000 to $400,000.

Remember that Heritage Park Amphitheatre is funded through Hospitality & Accommodations (H&A) tax dollars (not your property tax dollars).  Those dollars go into our Special Revenue Fund. And those dollars can only, by State law, be used for tourism-related expenditures (i.e. we cannot buy Public Works equipment with H&A funds). We make payments for HP from that Special Revenue account. For example, the upgraded chairs at HP were financed, and each year, we make a payment towards that debt.  The money for that payment comes from H&A (our Special Revenue Fund). Thus, it is important that we always maintain enough of a balance in that account to make all of our necessary payments (to cover our “debt service”).

In consulting with our Finance Director and our Financial Advisor, staff determined that we can use up to $400,000 from the current H&A balance without negatively impacting our credit rating or our ability to pay our debts. This would allow us to make these improvements during this off-season (starting soon!).

Based on all of this information, Council voted unanimously to allow staff to issue an Invitation to Bid to determine whether or not we can make this happen–and happen on time.  If we can, you’ll see this on future agendas because we’ll have to amend the 2017-18 budget ordinance (which takes two readings) to allow for a one-time transfer from the H&A fund balance to pay for these improvements.

 

Simpsonville SC will have one of the best concert venues in SC!

“What if we could guarantee you more, bigger, better concerts at the Amphitheater, thus increasing your revenue—without costing you a single penny more?”

That’s the question Roger Dickson of TRZ Entertainment brought to Council several months ago.

But doesn’t that sound too good to be true?  Who gets something for nothing?  No one, of course.  But Mr. Dickson and TRZ weren’t lying: they weren’t asking for a single penny more than we’ve been giving them.

What they did ask was for us to “put a little more skin in the game,” to make a bigger investment—not in cash, but in commitment level.  They asked for a 5-year contract for management of the amphitheater.  Up until now, they’ve been getting a one-year contract every year.

What do we get in return? Exactly what they promised—but we’re not relying on their word for it.  A couple months ago, TRZ presented us with an economic impact study, conducted by an expert third party at their expense, illustrating the huge gains we would receive from a stronger concert schedule.  This data, provided at Council’s request, drove our decision to approve the 5-year contract at last night’s Council meeting. Those bigger, better, more impactful concerts will come because TRZ is investing in a long-term contract with Live Nation, the largest live entertainment company in America.  This is something TRZ would be unable to do without a longer term commitment from the City.

This new agreement guarantees a better concert schedule—with more big-name entertainers.  This is possible (in part) because, as the largest live entertainment company in the country, Live Nation is able to buy full concert series and schedule whole tours across the country at the various concert venues with whom they contract.  And this means a bigger economic impact for Simpsonville.

This was no overnight decision, nor one we took lightly: it was something that TRZ and the City have been working on for some time.  And last night, we finally arrived at a contract to which both parties agreed. Council unanimously approved the new contract after an Executive Session to review that final contract.

Many thanks to Mr. Roger Dickson from TRZ, Mr. Robbie Davis (Department Head, Simpsonville Parks & Recreation), Mr. Eddie Case (former City Administrator), Mr. Wesley Williams (current City Administrator), and Mr. David Holmes (City Attorney) for all of their hard work on this project.  Thanks to their efforts, we will now have one of the best concert venues in South Carolina—and Simpsonville will reap the rewards of its success.

 

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Q&A: HP’s + $80k

Another thing recent survey comments has brought to light: there’s some misinformation out there regarding the Heritage Park Amphitheater budget. And I can see how residents might be upset and/or confused regarding this part of the budget.

Take, for example, this comment:

“A large chunk of money has been moved to the Heritage Park account. Until that is explained, I don’t support any increase.”

So I’d like to clear that up: the money for the HP Amphitheatre comes from hospitality/ accommodations tax, which is collected and held in our Special Revenue Fund. City staff indicates an increase in revenue of approx. $99,000 this year. That money must by law be spent on tourism-related expenses. The additional $80,000 in this year’s budget is for the 4th of July event and other qualifying events the city will plan over the course of the year.

One resident offered this advice on the budget:

“Take the money from the 80k in the proposed budget from entertainment…”

That would be great, but let’s be clear: No money from the General Fund goes to any of the HP Amphitheater expenses. None. It all comes from the Special Revenue Fund, and the use of that money is dictated by State law. No money from the Special Revenue Fund can be used on city services like sanitation. So we can’t move that $80k to pay for trash/leaves/brush.

You can read the city’s ordinance regarding hospitality tax here. State law is here.

Independence Day Celebration!

1465836633192This morning, there was a press conference about this upcoming celebration for the 4th of July! Hope to see you there!

The Greenville Symphony Orchestra is returning to Heritage Park in Simpsonville this Fourth of July weekend for a special free concert.

The Independence Day Celebration at Heritage Park will occur on Saturday, July 2 with gates opening at 5 p.m. and the event starting at 6 p.m.

The GSO under the direction of Maestro Edvard Tchivzhel will start playing just after sunset. The orchestra’s hour-long show will be capped by a cannon barrage during the 1812 Overture and then followed by an 18-minute fireworks display.

The event is sponsored by The City of Simpsonville, Greenville County and Greenville Health System, and is being produced by TRZ Management, which does the event production at Charter Amphitheatre at Heritage Park.

Simpsonville Mayor Janice Curtis said the event is something geared for the entire family.

“We want the entire Upstate to be able to enjoy the Fourth of July with an amazing concert from one of the nation’s leading orchestras and a true fireworks spectacular,” she said.

Entrance to the event is free. Guests can bring chairs and blankets, but cannot bring their own food. There will be food and drink vendors on site. Andy White, the symphony’s interim executive director said the Fourth of July show is a special event for the Upstate.

“There is really nothing like it in the region,” he said.

Aside from the concert, the event will include military vehicles, a rock climbing wall, special salutes to armed forces, a military jump team and a Flag Retirement Ceremony by the Boy Scouts of America.  The Flag Retirement Ceremony is only performed by special Boy Scout troops where they expertly and systematically take apart a flag using scissors or shears and then incinerate the pieces in a burner.

About the Greenville Symphony Orchestra

The Greenville Symphony Orchestra is dedicated to providing educational and cultural opportunities for the citizens of Greenville and surrounding communities through the presentation of live orchestral music. Offering excellence in live musical performance, the orchestra enriches lives, educates minds and encourages community support of the arts. Learn more at www.greenvillesymphony.org.

About the Independence Day Celebration at Heritage Park

This free Fourth of July spectacular is a family friendly event located in beautiful Simpsonville, South Carolina and held at the Charter Amphitheatre at Heritage Park. Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/IndependenceDayCelebrationatHeritagePark/. Share information on the event with the hashtags #discoversimpsonville #independenceupstate