Organizers of the new Chow Chow food festival in Asheville, which is making its debut in September, have decried the lack of support they’re seeing from city of Asheville officials.
Criticism came Friday at the end of Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority’s monthly business meeting as Asheville City Councilwoman Julie Mayfield, an ex-officio member of the TDA, delivered an update on city business.
Mayfield explained proposed changes to the way the city of Asheville supports local festivals, changes that could result in added expenses for a number of the city’s most well-known events, such as Shindig on the Green and the Asheville Holiday Parade.
City officials created a tiered system that ranked events seeking city support, Mayfield explained. The new system resulted in a recommendation of no support for the first-time Chow Chow this year and next, she said.
City support comes in the form of police, sanitation and street closure services whose costs are waived by the city. Those costs, as well as others such as permit and application fees, can add up to tens of thousands of dollars of extra expense for the nonprofit groups and other small groups that put on some of the city’s most well-known events.
“It was disappointing to me,” Mayfield said, but the recommendation “is where it is.”
TDA officials, who last year pledged $75,000 of their organization’s own money to the event, which will feature many of Asheville’s most well-known culinary rock stars, were well aware of the recommendation. And they weren’t happy.
Stephanie Brown, the executive director of the TDA and a member of Chow Chow’s organizing board, started by saying that city officials didn’t all the relevant data needed to make an informed decision about which events to support.
Mayfield said that may have been the case, but that wouldn’t affect this year’s recommendation.
Brown went on to note that just a couple of years ago, the city sent out a request for proposals for a new city-wide event that might replace Bele Chere, a free-music festival held in downtown Asheville that the city stopped funding in 2013 after a 30-year run. That festival was designed in 1979 as an economic engine to kickstart the redevelopment of downtown, and it succeeded. Chow Chow was designed with same economic impact in mind, Brown said, as well as values of equity and inclusion, which the city said it is highly valuing as it makes these kinds of decisions.
It was “extraordinarily disappointing to have the city not embrace this new event,” Brown said, adding that the decision could be “back-breaking for Chow Chow.”
Hotelier John McKibbon, whose hotel company plans to sponsor Chow Chow, said he, too, was frustrated by the decision-making process. “It’s very disappointing,” he said.
Tickets for Chow Chow are set to go on sale next month. The festival is scheduled for Sept. 12-15, with the event based in the city’s Pack Square Park. Ancillary programs and events will be spread across Asheville and Buncombe County.
Dodie Stephens, director of communications for the tourism organization, said it has been working with Asheville-based Atlas Branding to develop “high-quality creative” to support the event. ExploreAsheville.com is hosting the Chow Chow website, she said.
Asheville chefs Katie Button and John Fleer are preparing to go on a New York City media tour, Stephens said, where they will hand out their own special chow chow (a pickled relish) to reporters and talk up the event. Stephens added that her team will host up to 10 members of the media for site visits during the event in September.
At the March 11 meeting of the City Council committee where the festival support changes were discussed, Melissa Porter, a local event producer working on the event, and French Broad Chocolates co-founder Jael Rattigan, one of the event’s lead organizers, told committee members Mayfield, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler and Councilman Vijay Kapoor that the festival was counting on city support for a successful first year.
Chow Chow festival organizers have said they were planning on a first-year budget of about $1 million to make their event happen.
The City Council committee is planning to talk about the festival funding again next month.