Blueberry Festival carries high price tag

PLYMOUTH — The Marshall County Blueberry Festival is gearing up for its annual celebration of the small purple fruit. But for the show to go on, the festival has to have the funds to stage the show.
As a 501(c)3, the Blueberry Festival has to reinvest much of the funds that it raises to go back into equipment and other costs.
“A lot of it is from sponsors,” said Festival Board President David Caldwell. “We get sponsorship from different people.”
Two sponsors include Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center and Gillsingers, who gives over $1 million in equipment to the fair to use.
Some of their funds are made through the various venues at the fair. For using the Plymouth High School parking lot, the school takes a cut of 50 percent of the proceeds, while Blueberry receives 30 percent and the Moose Lodge the other 20 percent.
According to Caldwell, the fair makes most of its money from the carnival that sets up, however they do receive a portion of the take from the vendors that populate the festival’s grounds. The festival usually generates approximately $500,000 in funds from the four day affair.
However, their costs can exceed beyond that figure. This year, the festival is estimated at over $800,000.
“The thing we spend money on is the concert. This year is not as much as last year. Just for the entertainers themselves is $100,000,” said Caldwell.
To be more precise, this year’s entertainment is roughly $160,000, including the $40,000 stage. In 2013, the concert cost just over $200,000, and was cut short due to inclement weather.
Bob Brown, the board member in charge of security at the fair, has stated that with the recent kerfuffle around the new tennis courts that the parks department wishes to install will have greater financial impact on the fair than just shuffling things around.
“If we moved that’s gonna be a serious impact on us. We’ve got so much money, tens of thousands of dollars invested in that park underground, all the electric, the water, the sewer lines,” said Brown. “Everything that we put in there, nobody’s helped us pay for it. Any of it. That all comes out of our pocket. All that infrastructure is blueberries.”
The consequences of the cost by not having the fair could be potentially damaging to the county and city, according to Brown. Many people come to spend their money at vendors, booths, and shops in the area, as well as hotels. Brown insists that moving somewhere else, especially a new town, can be a potential revenue loss, especially if shifting the placement of the festival’s activities means having less access to the amount of utility and electrical access that has been put in.
“They don’t realize what it costs. Our venue is really inside the park, inside the confines of Centennial Park,” stated Brown.
In addition to the costs for entertainment alone, there is the behind-the-scenes cost. Liability insurance will cost the fair $28,000 to $29,000, not including vehicle insurance, personal liability, and insurance for the rented equipment.
The festival even pays for its own security.
“Plymouth police department doesn’t have enough officers to direct traffic and get people across the streets safely,” explained Brown. “So we spend $30,000 of our money hiring police officers from other jurisdictions to come in. [People] look at all these police officers and say Plymouth is spending a lot of money on police. None of those are Plymouth officers.”
Brown stated that while using officers is more expensive, “they know what to do, how to handle situations. We have issues out there you never hear about and never will. We quietly take care of it.”
For the entire weekend, their security budget is $60,000.
To set up for the event, the festival also pays the park $31,000 to rent for 10 days to set up, as well as pay for any damages that are incurred during the festival.
Between seven to 11 electricians are hired from a professional company to work the entire 10 days, making sure that no sparks, aside from the fireworks, go flying. Roughly $40,000 is allocated for the voltage needed to power the event.
Even the toilets are expensive.
“We have about 265 porta-johns. We pay $30,000 for a lot of outdoor toilets.”
But whether or not the show goes on, as was not the case with the concert last year, someone has to get paid.
“All those expenses go on whether we have a successful show or not,” said Brown.

This story appeared in the July 31 edition of the Pilot News