Ashvegas City Councilwoman: I’m voting against giving Moogfest taxpayer dollars

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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gwen_wisler_2014Asheville City Councilwoman Gwen Wisler, in an email to constituents, says she’s planning to vote against giving Moog Music Inc. $40,000 in cash to help it stage the revamped Moogfest music and technology festival in April.

Wisler, a first-time political candidate who won her seat in last year’s election, says in the email that she expects to be the minority on an upcoming vote on the issue. Here’s more:

Moogfest is a multi-day electronic music festival held in Asheville. This year, organizers will expand the festival offerings to include seminars and tech company presentations and recently came to the PED committee with a request for $40,000 in cash support plus $50,000 worth of in-kind city services. I voted no to the cash support and yes to the in-kind support. Jan and Marc voted in favor of both. Therefore, the request for funding will be brought before Council.

A Matter of Fairness

I support Moogfest. Who doesn’t love the idea of world-class musicians and tech entrepreneurs visiting Asheville? I am very encouraged by the chance that some great relationships will be formed during this festival. Hopefully, new jobs will be created. The $50,000 worth of in-kind City services for a Moogfest expansion seems a reasonable investment and very generous. However, I cannot justify favoring a request for $40,000 cash for a festival that is not open to the public.

In this case, Moogfest has requested financial funding up-front and the funding would not come from foregone property taxes. I believe in fairness and an equal playing field. Giving $40,000 in public funding to Moogfest pre-event is not fair to all the organizations that received their City incentives through the traditional property tax method. If Moogfest needs up-front cash, it makes more sense to me for festival organizers to raise the money privately or by other means such as the Chamber of Commerce or the Tourism and Development Authority.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Should Asheville City Council hand over our tax dollars to Moogfest? Should it stop at in-kind services, or give ’em some cash, too?

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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  1. Grant Millin February 18, 2014

    Bele Chere was nice, size appropriate and enjoyable for those who remember that time many years ago. Moogfest will be under intense scrutiny this year. A Bele Chere II developed with community collaboration is still an option for us.

    There’s no reason why taking the lessons learned from Bele Chere and looking around the world for awesome conference + event ideas can’t lead to a solution a lot more locals really fall in love with.

    The Moogfest tickets are exorbitant, but then Linamar products are costly.
    Moogfest 2014 Phase 2
    Night + Day $299
    Night (Music) $199
    Day (Conference) $249
    V.I.P. $499
    Engineer Package $1,000
    Legacy Package $10,000

    COA coughed up a good amount of change to get Linamar here. The difference is that people who live in the area have regular work at good hourly rates at Linamar at least. Otherwise the whole world of private sector subsides on the part of taxpayers deserves review.

    Obviously $10 k ‘legacy packages’ aren’t meant to do anything but place an ego premium on this event for ultra rich entertainment industry and small tech executives and VC.

    People who landed here last week were not here in the ugly 1980’s. People who like Moogfest may not be aware of the thought that went into initiatives like GroWNC. We definitely deserve and need the strategic innovation precedent of GroWNC. That’s a starting point for a more thoughtful, responsible future for this region.

    Moogfest is a relatively minor, severely overpriced (at least for the majority of Asheville citizens) entertainment industry and ‘more small tech’ strategy. It will be great if Moogfest is 80% good news of coming years.

    Thoughtful sustainable economic innovation includes those at the base of the economic pyramid and thinks twice about anything that adds to our GHG footprint.

    It will be interesting to see the payoff of Moogfest. For most folks around here a bigger collaborative innovation is getting the overall public experience balanced and we’ve got the start of genuine collaborative economic innovation with GroWNC… also a public-private initiative.

    $40 k is not a lot in the larger scheme of things. Moogfest is about the entertainment industry and an attempt to redo SXSW. By the way Austin, TX is a state capital with 800,000 people. Is getting that huge part of the Moogfest unintended consequences? Because surely Moogfest is not the most acutely conceived economic development strategy known to Man… is it?

    So it’s the larger scheme of things folks we want to get a bigger, deeper strategy rolling towards. Moogfest is also not a cure-all. The point of GroWNC is it’s the start of this community working with systemic innovation at the civilization level.

  2. Laura Hope-Gill February 11, 2014

    Asheville Wordfest is in its 7th year and has always been free and open to the community. With a mission to present voices from diverse cultural and aesthetic contexts, and having presented poets and writers from more than thirty such contexts, ranging from international to local, and been viewed by people in 28 countries via live webcast, the festival reflects Asheville’s diversity and creativity. With support, the festival has been called ‘the next Dodge,” meaning the successor to the largest poetry festival in the country which used to take place in upper New Jersey then moved to Newark after Madoff took all its money. Now presenting novelists, songwriters, storytellers, as well as poets (I started it with poetry because that is what I knew best), it is moving ahead into a larger space, taking place in the Art Museum May 2,3,4 this year. Why not give the money to an event that is free and devoted to binding communities together and which can also boost our creative economy in all fields including tech. This is the first live webcast poetry festival in the nation, after all. Wordfest belongs to the community. It’s already a city festival. Laura Hope-Gill

    1. Melissa February 11, 2014

      Good point. Here’s what city staff is recommending in full:

      “$40,000 financial investment per year. $50,000 of in-kind support and fee
      waivers per year for a maximum value of $90,000 per year at a maximum term of three years as defined appropriate to support permitting, space uses and on-site conference operations.”

  3. arts lover February 11, 2014

    AshVegas, could you give us a “all those in favor, say aye, those opposed, say nay” gadget, kind of like the Citizen-Times polls, so we can see how this is stacking up? What percentage in favor, what percentage opposed?

  4. mountaingoat February 10, 2014

    I’m not against funding Moogfest, but shouldn’t we repair all the potholes and bungled up roads around AVL, first? Just sayin’.

    1. chris February 11, 2014

      I think that would do more to attract business and future development, honestly. The town’s road infrastructure is really, really poor.

  5. David February 10, 2014

    The idea of spending $40000 plus in kind services on an event that is not accessible to many of Asheville’s citizens due to the cost to attend seems crazy. Also it is worth noting that bele chere, an event that was attended for FREE by over 250,000 attendees and had a huge economic impact on local businesses was cut by city council just months ago. The idea that they cut bele chere based on budget and now are considering putting all of these dollars into a private event…. It is absurd! They cut jobs and cut support to an amazing event and I believe it would be a slap in the face to the board and staff who they cut to hand over the same dollars they are supposedly supp

    1. David February 10, 2014

      -supposed to be saving.

  6. Chall February 10, 2014

    Great comments, Craig McAnsh and Tony Zeoli. This city desperately needs more focuses and initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship and tech startups. This festival, if done correctly (which of course is still to be seen, and will take several years to do so) could be something that actually takes real steps to establishing Asheville as a place that tech entrepreneurs should consider locating.

    We’ll never be Austin, because there isn’t a terminal degree program here in anything remotely resembling business or technology, so there aren’t students working on things with real world applicability, but there are a handful of smart and creative people who want to make it happen (and we have the major benefit of the natural beauty of our area being a natural attractor), and hopefully there are enough people on City Council that they’ll approve this for the festival.

  7. Kim Roney February 10, 2014

    I can’t help but wonder if folks are just going to comment online, or are they going to show up to the meeting too. I have to work, but all the city council meetings are available at:

    1. smytty February 11, 2014

      I think we all know the answer here.

      Besides, as Tim Peck would suggest, isn’t the meeting scheduled for the biggest snowstorm of the century?

  8. CraveRecords February 10, 2014

    Comments on Ashvegas are so humorous. “It will bring in so much money through hotels and money people spend.” The City sees no hotel tax revenues and a tiny fraction of retail tax revenues (most stays at the state level or goes to the county).

    That said, the new Moogfest is more centered on building a business community here so I look at it as an incentive for economic development rather than just the week-long festival. Compared to recent incentives, $40K is a drop in the bucket.

    1. Doug S. February 10, 2014

      Hotel taxes do stay in the city. They are used by the TDA for various promotional and improvement projects. These projects increase visitor traffic. Visitors then spend money here. Money helps local businesses. I’m trying to keep this as simple as possible.

      1. Mleissa February 10, 2014

        The TDA does promote our beautiful city, but hotel taxes don’t directly go to the city’s coffers — and that is a big problem.

        For many years, Asheville tried to get the state legislature to give it 1 penny (of 4 cents) of the hotel tax that goes to the TDA. This issue got more attention under mayors Sitnick and Worley than it does now.

        The city rightly wanted this money to take care of the roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure that are used by all of us, but on whom the burden for expense is only on city taxpayers/property owners.

        The TDA has actively lobbied against it and Asheville certainly doesn’t have friends in Raleigh who can make it happen.

        Tourism is great and a huge part of the local economy, but the tax base is too small to support all its needs. The city has only two main sources of revenue: property taxes & fees (like parking tickets). Even money for the water system can only be spent on the upkeep of the water system and can’t go in the general fund.

        The city recently raised property taxes for the first time in about a decade, due to our dismal economy.

        Gwen is right.

        This is not a justified expense. More power to Moog, which is a wonderful company, but setting a precedent like this (you think other festivals won’t want similar treatment?) is bad business for taxpayers.

        1. Melissa February 10, 2014

          (And after all that, I typo-ed my own name. Damn. Anyway, GO GWEN.)

        2. CraveRecords February 11, 2014

          Thanks, Melissa. I guess I didn’t make it as simple as possible when I said the City (capital “C”) doesn’t get a share of the hotel tax revenue.

          1. Melissa February 11, 2014

            Ah! Thank you.

      2. Sean February 10, 2014

        Perhaps Moog should apply for a TDA grant, then. Instead, they’re asking for up to $150,000 in in-kind municipal services AND up to $120,000 in actual money for the next three years. That’s not chump change.

        1. Doug S. February 10, 2014

          Good idea.

        2. Melissa February 11, 2014


  9. ArtsyFartsy February 10, 2014

    The TDA or Chamber should give them $40K per all the hotel and tourism revenue Moogfest produces.
    But $40K in taxpayer money would make a significant dent towards us having bus service on Sundays which our citizens desperately need & have been begging for for years. (Last I heard it would be between $200-$250K annually to do this.)

    I don’t care how many ‘freebie’ events Moogfest puts on for those of us who are local for these events – my/our tax monies should not being going to support because no freebie events are going to be worth $40K to our tax base.

    That being said, let’s be consistent here – $2mil should not be going to the Art Museum as it is also not free to the public (unless you count 2hrs a month at the most inconvenient time possible), nor do they really do any community programming or outreach.

    But then this leads to a larger issue of little if any of our tax dollars going to fund & cultivate arts & culture for our city. Sure, maybe Bele Chere wasn’t the kind of art & culture we wanted to cultivate anymore, but that didn’t mean we had to scrap the entire city arts program, did it?
    I want the city to invest in arts & culture for our community, it is a major building block in quality of life and tourism development, but lets be smart about how we use those dollars.

    1. Ben February 10, 2014

      The Chamber has already committed some funding for MoogFest.

      “The chamber has already put money behind Moogfest, ponying up $25,000 for an economic impact study. The chamber will also fund the VIP green rooms for entertainers during the festival.”


  10. Sean February 10, 2014

    I agree with Councilwoman Wisler. Regardless of the projected revenues for related businesses as a result of Moogfest, the company is still a private entity that stands to profit from the enterprise. Asheville taxpayers should not subsidize this.

  11. Vlad Emrick February 10, 2014

    So the city should only support (via in-kind or cash) free events? That’s an interesting and yet ultimately limited idea. That effectively rules out many other investments from the city as well. Hope she’s consistent on this point.

  12. Craig McAnsh February 10, 2014

    Unfortunately, her email will cause more people to also think narrowly about the power of an event like MoogFest to actually stimulate our burgeoning tech and innovation economy in Asheville. With the city’s support (if you can call $40,000 support), Moog Music and event producers could focus more on content that will strengthen the foundations of creativity here. Other cities would kill to have an asset like Moog Music and MoogFest to rally around in a way that can increase our awareness as a globally recognized center of creativity, innovation and collaboration.

    1. theOtherBarry February 10, 2014

      “(if you can call $40,000 support)”

      Yeah, you’re practically pissing on them by only handing them $40,000 cash. How dare you.

      1. Craig McAnsh February 10, 2014

        Despite what you think – $40,000 – $50,000 is a very small amount of money to support an event with global reach and stature. MoogFest has the ability to attract creative class jobs and employers and should be looked upon as a prime event for the future of the city. By the way, AVL spent almost half a million dollars each year on Bele Chere which in its later years was a drag on local business and the image of our city.

        1. jeffsguy February 11, 2014

          Let’s set the record straight on Bele Chere. In 2013, the budget for Bele Chere was $450K. The total revenue from the 3 day event was $490,617. That was a $40,617 revenue to the City. When the Council was intent on destroying Bele Chere as per this wishes of the Ashevillle Downtown Association, it trotted out the “in-kind” expenses for sanitary services, police overtime, etc. The cost of these services came to about $250K. What are the anticipated costs of the in-kind services to Moogfest?

          During the 2013 Bele Chere Festival, an on site survey was taken with a response rate of 91%. For a festival that “was a drag on local business and the image of the City”, the total estimated direct spending due to the Festival was $32,204,737. This figure comes from lodging, dining, transportation, retail, entertainment and other festival-related spending.

          63% of non-resident respondents agreed with the statement that “If Bele Chere was not occurring, I would not have visited Asheville this weekend.” 84% indicated that they would be coming back to Asheville/Buncombe at a different time of year due the positive experience of Bele Chere.

          89% of local residents surveyed agreed that the positives of the festival outweighed the negatives. 89.9% agreed that Bele Chere had a positive economic impact to the community. 83.5% thought that the festival provides positive recognition for the community.

          I could cite many more positive data from the survey but I hope this sparks a transparent and honest review of Bele Chere and the hypocrisy of Council support for new festivals and events. I doubt that the survey, which was sponsored by the City, will ever see the light of day, ( I have a copy) but it should be made part of the overall discussion about funding future festivals with taxes.

          1. theOtherBarry February 11, 2014

            I was a vendor at the last Bele Chere. Sat. morning, the owner of a downtown hotel and his wife stopped by my booth & asked if I was having a good time. I asked if the festival was hurting his business, and they said that yes, a few of their “top drawer” clients had left early, because they were “afraid” of Bele Chere. So you have some vacancies, then, I asked? No, they said – they were still filled to capacity, they just weren’t able to charge “premium rates” for their best rooms. This was massively unfair to them, and in their mind, justified getting rid of Bele Chere.

          2. Craig McAnsh February 11, 2014

            once again your information is misguided in that it is looking in the wrong direction. Of course the people interviewed had a favorable opinion – they were regional tourists looking for a good time. Bele Chere positioned Asheville as a place to visit for a nice weekend of funnel cakes, music, cheesy “carnival” atmosphere … along with some really beautiful artwork. It frankly doesn’t matter that Bele Chere made money for the city as it was the wrong money. Short term money. Destabilizing money.

            The future of Asheville will need to come from the new economy. A sustainable economy build on knowledge based industries that will draw hardworking, creative milliennials to form new businesses with growth potential.

            Lastly, I highly expect that MoogFest has the potential to bring a lot more revenue to Asheville than the Bele Chere ever did.

            Here’s the real story about what MoogFest will bring to Asheville.

  13. Josie February 10, 2014

    My understanding is there will be free programming and events at Moogfest? One of the articles in the Citizen-Times said there will be free programming on the street as well as a tech expo and job fair that are open to the public…and maybe some other stuff? Seems like a better use of taxpayer money than Bele Chere was regardless.

  14. Ronald Reagan February 10, 2014

    Did the town give Queens Of The Stone Age 20k to come play? no, but we did good sales that day, the concert still went on. The cops still did their job, whatever that is, busting kids, being dicks, whatever cops do. Please don’t give Moog any tax money

  15. indy February 10, 2014

    I don’t think she went far enough. The in-kind services grant is essentially cash as well. It is OT for police, it is revenue foregone on fees/licenses and the like.

  16. Tim Peck February 10, 2014

    Wisler breaks with tradition on progressive city council of handing out corporate welfare.

    Thanks for being a good steward of taxpayer money.

    1. chris February 10, 2014

      I find myself wanting to disagree with her simply because this tool agreed with her.

      1. Kevin Vick February 10, 2014

        “I find myself wanting to disagree with her simply because this tool agreed with her.”

        Which makes you the biggest tool of all. Please do us all a favor and stay home on election day.

        1. chris February 10, 2014

          I find disagreeing with the disagreeable good reason, in and of itself. Looks like you do, too.

      2. Scott February 11, 2014

        “I find myself wanting to disagree with her simply because this tool agreed with her.”

        HaHaHaHaHaHaaaa!! So glad I’m not the only one around who thinks sh*t like this.

    2. theOtherBarry February 10, 2014

      Yes, because “handing out corporate welfare” is strictly a “progressive” thing…

      McCrory offers Boeing $700 million, is told sorry – it’s not enough.

      1. burnsey February 10, 2014

        Who is this Tim Peck? He seems to chime in with nothing but accolades for that moffitt guy and the current gov’nor.

        1. ashevillain February 11, 2014

          Hmm. I think you’re onto something…

  17. Melissa February 10, 2014

    I totally agree with Gwen and I hope the majority of council is as reasonable on this issue.

  18. Fair Trade February 10, 2014

    I agree with her stance. The $50K of in-kind services is indeed quite generous.

  19. Cwaster February 10, 2014

    Completely agree. If it’s not an open to the public event, the city should not be sponsoring it. The tickets should be plenty- and they certainly are pricey already.

  20. Murphy February 10, 2014

    Moogfest is a ticketed event … if they can’t “make it” on the price of those tickets – then they should increase the cost.

  21. Tony Zeoli February 10, 2014

    I don’t know much about the “traditional property tax method” that other organizations may tap into to fund their programs. I can understand the hesitancy for Ms. Wisler to say no to the $40,000. It is true that Moogfest is not a “public” event, in the sense that it is free for the public to engage with. Attendees must pay to attend and it is expensive for a multi-day pass. However, as an attendee last year, Moogfest drew me to the area and I subsequently moved here with Moogfest and other electronic music events an inspiration for me to make the decision. There is such thing as public private partnership. Moogfest attracts people to spend money in downtown Asheville and that money translates into taxes for the city, tips and wages for restaurant and bar workers, revenue for stores, and marketing for the city of Asheville as a welcoming destination for technology and electronic music.

    Technology jobs are few and far between in this region. It is sorely lacking in a strong focus on entrepreneurship (even though there are some programs, it pales in comparison to other areas I have lived). Investing in Moogfest, I believe, will continue to pay off in the long run, because it will help to continue to build a culture of innovation in the area.

    Yes, it is hard to see how $40,000 distributed to one festival would make an impact while other organizations must pursue an alternate way to raise funds. And, yes, the Moogfest should depend on private investment. But, the fact is that Moog situates itself in Asheville, employs people in the region and is an attraction that draws visitors to see its factory and hear the unique instruments the company builds.

    A city has to recognize and assist a primary attraction like Moogfest grow. It has to invest in projects with the knowledge that that investment will return revenues to city coffers, continue to build the area as a unique destination, and support a festival which draw young people to the area who will then turn around and tell their friends what a great place Asheville is.

    That’s what Moogfest did for me. Now me and my Digital Strategy Works start-up are here, mainly because I was inspired to move here for the culture that Moogfest is trying to grow. Moogfest is one of the reasons I’m here. This is not Miami, New York or Las Vegas, which can attract and hold hundreds of thousands of visitors to electronic music festivals or nightclubs. This is Asheville, where private investment is definitely not on the same level. So a festival like Moogfest needs that public/private support to do what it does best.

    In kind services are great. But the festival needs to pay people to do the work to put on the festival. I understand it may be deemed frivolous by some people, but I am an example of how Moogfest drew me to the area. And if it did that for me and people I know in my industry, it’s going to pay off in the long run by creating more music/entertainment industry job and attract people like me to the area.

  22. none February 10, 2014

    Totally agree. It’s a private event put on for Moog to make money. Let them find private fundraising.

    1. Doug S. February 10, 2014

      Moogfest could be looked at as an investment for the city though. Visitors’ tax contribution > $40,000.

  23. Santa February 10, 2014

    She’s right.

  24. arts lover February 10, 2014

    Ms. Wisler’s reasoning is persuasive, and her vote to support with in-kind support only (which, after all, still costs the taxpayers) is a reasonable compromise.


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