What is the sound of no hands clapping?
The Jackson County Expo might change its agreement with the Britt Festivals as it struggles toward financial independence, county officials say.
Britt has yet to book any acts for this summer at the Expo's Lithia Motors Amphitheater, which seats 5,900. If the Expo wants to book its own acts 60 or more days out, it must first check with Britt to make sure there are no conflicts.
Expo Director Chris Borovansky said he hoped for at least seven or eight major shows a year — not counting the Jackson County Fair — at the amphitheater, but so far has booked half a dozen since the venue opened with The Steve Miller Band in July 2005. It generates revenues of about $100,000 annually.
"It hasn't been that successful," said Borovansky. "We all thought there would be more shows out there."
Kelly Gonzales, Britt marketing director, said her organization would like to reserve its right to first dibs at the Expo as a safety net. But, she added, "it's never been an issue."
Britt has had difficulty lining up acts even in Jacksonville this year, booking 40 shows compared to the normal 46, she said, though an announcement for a big, "fresh" act for the coming season was expected next week.
"This has been an unusual booking year, period," she said.
Gonzales said artists have been asking "astronomical prices" of 15 to 30 percent higher than last year as acts look for other revenue sources to offset declines in CD sales. Britt also must compete with casinos for the shows.
Gonzales said other challenges have made booking acts at the amphitheater problematic. The amphitheater is mid-size, ruling out large or small shows.
Because there's no way to keep excess water off the stage, a show could be cancelled if it rains, she said. The lack of dressing rooms means Britt has to bring in its own trailers, which cuts into the festivals' bottom line. And concerts must compete with any other major events at the Expo grounds for parking.
Borovansky said the Expo wants to continue working with Britt and is attempting to resolve some of these issues. It plans to install screening around three sides of the amphitheater to make it more waterproof and develop better backstage amenities.
He said there is sufficient parking at the Expo to handle multiple events. Besides, he said, "Any facility you go to, parking is problematic."
The Expo on its own has booked three acts for the upcoming season at the amphitheater, including Lynyrd Skynyrd during the week of the fair. Borovansky said the Expo will continue to work with other promoters to get additional acts.
June Brock, president of the Jackson County Fair Board, overseer of the Expo, said the relationship with Britt is now in flux.
"We don't even know if there is any way to make the agreement go away (legally), or if it is in the best interest of the Expo," she said.
"Is it something we can legally act on?" she said.
The fair board, which met with Britt officials Friday, will be looking at ways to generate more money out of the amphitheater, built at a cost of just under $4 million.
The board is considering asking voters to approve a levy in 2008 to help keep up with maintenance and alleviate a $150,000 cutback from the county.
Borovansky said fairs throughout the state rely on some form of tax. In Lane County, $900,000 a year is raised in hotel/motel taxes for the fairgrounds.
Much of the revenue for the Expo's $1.9 million budget is generated at the fair, which in the last two years has suffered from triple-digit temperatures.
"Sixty percent of our budget is depending on six good days in July," he said. A Martina McBride concert at last year's fair also generated less revenue than expected, said Borovansky.
The Expo holds events for groups such as Future Farmers of America and high school equestrian teams and during Easter hosted a sunrise service at the amphitheater. It also manages 50 acres of ponds, wildlife habitat and an equestrian trail.
"We've been told to operate like a business, but we operate like a community center," said Borovansky.
The 250-acre fairgrounds also need work, including new phone lines, general maintenance and potentially enclosing the Compton arena. Borovansky said these improvements would require additional revenues.
"We really need a stable funding base," said Borovansky. "We're operating hand to mouth."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.