Music festival spins cash into Metro Detroit

Story as originally posted at The Detroit News –

(Contributing writer)

DETROIT — For Cliff Thomas, the throbbing bass filling Hart Plaza at Movement 2003: Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival sounds sweet, but the ringing cash registers at his Buy-Rite Records store on Seven Mile sound even sweeter.

“I couldn’t buy that type of marketing or have any sort of decent shot at it without spending $10,000 to $20,000 on an advertisement,” said Thomas, owner of the Detroit shop that has seen visitors from as close as Ohio, Indiana and Missouri and as far as France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. They roam the aisles of his store that specializes in rare and out-of-print vinyl. One Belgian man purchased more than $250 in vinyl Thursday afternoon.

“Every year, it’s like we get a little shot of B12.”

Thomas’ customers are just a few of the thousands of electronic music fans from around the world who are at Hart Plaza this weekend opening their wallets to the city of Detroit.

The economic adrenaline the festival provides the city is not only felt in record stores, but also in area hotels, clubs and restaurants. Depending on attendance this year, those who’ve tracked the event say Movement 2003 could generate $54 million to $85 million in revenue for the city of Detroit.

“Special events are terrific economic generators, and the best are those that are unique to our destination, like Movement or the Woodward Dream Cruise,” said Michelle Fusco, media relations manager for the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The festival, Fusco said, provides a needed economic boost during Memorial Day weekend when there isn’t much else to help fill up hotels and restaurants.

Festival organizers said that more than a million people, ranging in age from 17-37, attended the previous electronic music festivals. But David Littmann, senior vice president and chief economist at Comerica Bank, puts the number closer to 600,000.

Based on those numbers, Littmann pegs the economic impact at $54 million — $42 million in direct spending for hotel/motel nights, parking, gas, transportation, setting up and tearing down stages, after parties, food and drinks, CD and souvenir sales, advertising and restaurants, and another $12 million respent by businesses.

Should Movement attract the nearly million fans this year the promoters project, Littmann predicts it could generate close to $85 million.

Top 25 percent

The attendance at Movement, even at the lowest estimates, puts the event in the top 25 percent of annual metro-area events, below such heavy-hitters as the North American International Auto Show, which Littmann said generates about $500 million yearly. By comparison, he estimates the Woodward Dream Cruise brings in $12 million.

Jonathan Witz, producer of Chrysler Arts, Beats and Eats, the Labor Day weekend event that attracts about 1.3 million people to the city of Pontiac, estimates his festival generates $5 million to $10 million for the city.

Movement 2003 and the Detroit Electronic Music Festivals before it “fill an important time slot in Detroit’s events calendar,” a slot that used to be filled by the Grand Prix, Littmann said.

Diane Swonk, chief economist for Bank One, says Movement’s economic effect reaches beyond this weekend’s dollar figures.

“It’s more of a long-term investment than a short-term hit,” she said. “People tend to overestimate the near-term effects of events like this. But for people to come downtown, to see the city and feel safe inside it, it’s hard to put a price on that.”

Club owner holiday

Club owners revel in the activity the festival generates.

“I’d say (business) is up 100 percent during the weekend,” said Julian Rainwater, 38, co-owner of the Camillian Cafe in Detroit.

Likewise, Fishbone’s Rhythm Kitchen Cafe in Greektown said its business will double this weekend, so the restaurant has increased its staff to 35 from 20 to handle the influx.

“There’s a lot more hustle-bustle downtown during the event,” said Lori Repp, Fishbone’s manager. The restaurant will see about 250 more customers a day, she said. “We see an increase in activity from anything that’s going on on the waterfront.”

Along with Buy-Rite, other record stores see an increase in buzz as well.

Alvin Hill Jr., an employee at Record Time in Ferndale, said “the festival always heightens interest in the techno scene. And that’s most definitely a good thing.”

The 37-year-old Detroiter said store sales have increased 25-35 percent since last Sunday. One of the best-selling LPs is “The Detroit Experiment” by DJ and producer Carl Craig, who will perform at 6 p.m. today at the festival.

Hotels busy

Movement 2003 also is filling up hotel rooms quicker than past electronic music festivals.

“It’s had its greatest impact on us this year, which is surprising because I had read all the stuff about the festival having a hard time securing sponsorships and whatnot,” said Ruth Jarrett-Cooper, sales director for Greektown’s Atheneum Hotel. “It’s definitely been a shot in the arm for us.”

Bob Nee, marketing and sales director for the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center, said the hotel has rented more than 100 rooms than it usually would during a normal weekend. Nee also oversees marketing and sales for the Courtyard by Marriott in the Millender Center.

The Comfort Inn on East Jefferson is reporting full occupancy. Tonya Oscar, the hotel’s assistant manager, said festival-goers from as far away as California, New York and Texas are staying there.

Losing money

Despite the economic impact on the Metro area, the festival has lost money each year: $400,000 in 2002, $150,000 in 2001 and $300,000 in 2000, said Lucius Vassar, the city of Detroit’s director of corporate and city affairs.

Paul Tollet, a promoter of the Coachella Festival in Indio, Calif., said a festival can go only so long without making money. Coachella, a two-day gig with more than 70 modern rock and electronic acts, charges $70 a day for admission, allowing the event to run without a title sponsor.

But Witz, with Chrysler Arts, Beats and Eats, said for a free event, sponsors are “everything.”

“They’re our life blood,” he said.

Detroit techno pioneer and festival producer Derrick May was able to secure the sponsorship dollars he needed to pull off this year’s festival. However, if future festivals can’t survive on sponsorships alone, May said Movement would consider charging for admissions.

“To keep it viable it has to be sellable,” May said. “It would be well worth it.”

And well worth it for the city, too.