DECATUR — Decatur Celebration organizers say they don't plan to increase the cost for wristbands to attend the festival this year, although revenue numbers from last summer's event are still being finalized.
Preliminary attendance numbers show over 30,000 attendees visited the downtown street festival held Aug. 3-5, organizers said. They declined to provide the Herald & Review with exact numbers or revenue totals, citing an ongoing audit.
Organizers began charging admission to the 33-year-old festival and installed a fence around its perimeter in 2017, saying the changes were needed to ensure the event's future. As financial struggles continued, the price of admission for the 2018 festival was doubled to $10 in advance or $15 at the gate.
"Admittedly, we’re still working on the right formula to increase attendee numbers and revenue so that we can continue to produce the kind of event our community deserves," said Claudette Davis, who succeeded Jeff Ludwick as president of the Celebration's board of directors, in an emailed statement. "But we can confirm that the cost of wristbands will not increase this year."
Last year's event was headlined by country artist Gretchen Wilson, rapper T.I. and rock band Daughtry, and also featured the wide array of other musical acts, food vendors and crafts for which the festival is known.
Installing the perimeter has made it possible for organizers to keep a validated tab on how many people attend the festival. Davis said the preliminary attendance numbers reflect the number of purchased weekend passes, but doesn't include attendees under 12.
Producer Lori Sturgill said attendance is tracked by the number of wristbands sold, and that number must be reconciled back to the money collected and deposited before and during the Celebration.
The reconciliation is verified during the annual audit of the nonprofit Decatur Celebration Inc., she said, which began in January. While she and Davis have an idea of what the final attendance total is, Sturgill said, she declined to provide the number until the audit has been completed.
"In my opinion, our attendance numbers are something to be proud of," said Sturgill. "... They should be impressive to everyone."
Davis acknowledged that changes to the Celebration format, such as the admission prices and the fence, have changed the event "drastically" since the inaugural festival in 1986. But, she said, as preparations for this year's festival continue, it's the organizers goal to make it "bigger and better than last year, and we're successfully working with our community partners to make that happen."
The board president's comments on the importance of community partnerships comes in the midst of criticism leveled at Celebration organizers by former board President Mark Scranton. In an email obtained by the Herald & Review, Scranton wrote to several Celebration board members and said he was speaking on behalf of several sponsors, past board members, chairman volunteers and shareholders that are concerned about the way organizers have recently overseen the event.
Scranton's email said that the board has violated various business bylaws that could jeopardize Decatur Celebration Inc.'s status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, such as allowing Sturgill to access certain financial information. He also wrote that relationships with several of Celebration's sponsors and volunteers have been severed due to poor mismanagement or for being treated with a lack of respect.
Scranton confirmed the authenticity of the email but declined to comment further when reached Wednesday.
Speaking on behalf of Sturgill and the other board members, Davis declined to comment on Scranton's email.
"There have always been rumors about the Decatur Celebration and while we share Mr. Scranton's enthusiasm and vested interest in the success and longevity of the Decatur Celebration, the festival director and its board members are not in the habit of responding to gossip," Davis wrote.
"We are, in turn, tasked with overseeing the daily activities of the organization and ensuring that it is financially sound. To that end, a financial audit is administered annually."
Tax forms obtained by the Herald & Review through a Freedom of Information Act request in 2018 showed the 2017 event made $960,000 in admission fees, commissions, sponsorship and fundraising. The records also show that it cost $964,000 to produce the event
Sturgill and Davis said the revenue numbers for the 2018 Celebration won't be available until organizers file its annual tax forms with the Internal Revenue Service, which will happen after the annual audit of Decatur Celebration Inc. is completed.
"(The audit) is typical of a not-for-profit organization," Davis said. "We've always adhered to standard accounting practices and continue to receive a clean audit."
Sturgill said the tax Form 990 — which provide an overview of the activities, governance and detailed financial information of nonprofit organizations to the IRS — must be filed by the 15th day of the 5th month after the organization's accounting period ends.
Celebration's fiscal year ends on Oct. 31, she said, so its tax form must be filed on March 15.
"(Form 990) is not even due yet with the state, so we don't want to give out unedited numbers," Sturgill said.