Marion A&P cuts Esperanza Bonanza funding for 2018

Marion A&P cuts Esperanza Bonanza funding for 2018

City wants annual festival to become more self- sufficient as commission looks to support other events in the community Marion Advertising and Promotions Commission will give Esperanza Bonanza $25,000 to help promote this year’s event, but made it clear that organizers need to become more self-sufficient in the future.

A& P has traditionally given the barbecue festival about $30,000 a year, but has tried to wean the group from relying too much on A& P money in order to be able to fund other events in Marion.

Esperanza Bonanza officials asked A& P for $45,000 this year, but commissioners balked at the amount.

“I appreciate Esperanza Bonanza being here and I think it has done great things for our community,” said City Councilman and A& P chairman David Bigger. “I’ve been a volunteer and my kids love it. But I think somewhere along the way we should be backing down and not continuing to go up. There is talk of more festivals and we have more people coming to the table now to ask us for money.”

Bigger said the amount of money A& P has given Esperanza Bonanza keeps going up despite the fact that the event has been around for over 25 years.

A& P has set an unofficial policy of only giving $25,000 to festivals to help with start up costs.

“We had the school come to us and we limited them to $25,000 over a period of years for concerts until they can become self-supportive,” Bigger said. “And we have a commitment to the Sultana Museum. I have no problem supporting Esperanza — $25,000 I am willing to work with. But I do believe at this point they need to be more self supportive. I don’t want to the ones who are keeping it going.”

Esperanza Bonanza is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization that hosts a celebrated three-day barbecue competition and rodeo festival

each May.

The event regularly draws a crowd of over 15,000 visitors and is the group’s largest fundraiser. Esperanza Bonanza also provides scholarships to assist area graduating seniors and also gives money to area charities, police and fire departments, and other non-profit organizations.

Esperanza Bonanza Treasurer Joanie Taylor said this year’s budget for Esperanza Bonanza is $135,000.

She pointed out that Esperanza Bonanza is more than just the barbecue festival in May. The group held two barbecue events last year, two rodeos, and a beauty pageant.

“We had a busy year,” Taylor said. “That’s the reason why we are asking for a bit more this year.”

The news that the money was being used for more than just the May event took A& P members by surprise.

“So Esperanza has opened up separate events?” Bigger asked.

Taylor said Esperanza Bonanza held a Memphis Barbecue Network sanctioned event in March which drew 26 teams in addition to the main contest held in May.

They also held a beauty pageant in April and a two night PRCA sanctioned rodeo event in July which brought additional visitors to Marion.

“So we are really bringing people in to our city,” Taylor said. “I know of at least 20 teams that spent the night in Marion in our hotels.”

The committee struggled to figure out the budget needs however, because the events were not broken down by expenses, revenue, and attendance.

“Are all these events part of this request?” Mayor Frank Fogleman asked.

“I’m having a hard time digesting all of this.”

Taylor said that sponsorships, revenue, and attendance are all down from past years — mostly because of weather. The $30,000 that A& P provides isn’t going as far as it used to, Taylor said.

“There are a lot of areas that we don’t ask for money,” Taylor. “We don’t ask for money for premiums for the contest winners. We pay over $30,000 for the rodeo ourselves.

And because we are a nonprofit, we give money back to the community. The money you give us offsets the advertising and promotion that we do for Marion.”

A& P member Loretta Tacker, owner of the Shake Shack, asked why Esperanza Bonanza doesn’t just re-pay the money as if it were a loan.

“I’ve never understood why instead of paying A& P back so we can use the money for other things, they give money to the Boys Club and other West Memphis activities that aren’t in Marion.”

A& P member Hilda Phillips of CG’s Catering said Esperanza Bonanza should be relying less and less on A& P money because it is a long established event, not asking for more.

“It’s not fair that we would limit one group in Marion and not limit another,” Phillips said.

A& P member Mary Singer, owner of Funkees Cafe, asked if Esperanza had thought about charging more to get in.

“Is there a way to increase ticket prices?” Singer asked.

Taylor said Esperanza Bonanza officials have discussed the possibility, but added that they are reluctant because other local events like Arts on the Levee raised prices and saw attendance drop.

“We don’t want to price ourselves out,” Taylor said.

“We want families to come here.”

Taylor said Wednesday night only costs three dollars to get in. The price to get in tops off at ten dollars on Saturday, and a weekend wrist band only costs $15.

“And you get the carnival and a band,” Taylor said.

“Where else can you pay five dollars and see all that? Certainly not in Memphis.”

Fogleman said A& P is willing to continue its support, but not what they are asking for.

“I certainly want to help and contribute,” Fogleman said. “I do think $45,000 is too much. There are limits to what we can do.”

Singer suggested giving Esperanza Bonanza $25,000 and allowing them to come back later to ask for more if needed.

“I’m in agreement with everybody,” Singer said.

“I’m not prepared to do that. I would consider something smaller.”

Fogleman encouraged Taylor to return at a later date with an itemized budget.

“It would help me to see individual attendance and to see how much of an impact it is having,” Fogleman said. “That would help us understand it better.”

Bigger agreed.

“I’m fine with allotting $25,000,” Bigger said. “But I do believe at this point we need to make notice to Esperanza that this is where we are going. We don’t mind helping along the way. But I don’t want to continue to be the ones

keeping it going.”

By Mark Randall