Please click on image to read banner for Bikes, Blues and Barbecue in September 2008 on Dickson Street
Time for an audit. If Bikes, Blues and Barbecue is really financially beneficial to Fayetteville, who gets the money?
The rally started with a redeeming social value and purpose: Donating to to Meals on Wheels.
When that became a minor part, the value of the rally became suspect. Suspending any help to charity again this year makes it more than suspect. Who profits from the rally and why don't those who profit contribute?
See The Morning News story below for details.
Questions of sales-tax from the rally and revenue to local businesses were not asked for The Morning News' story below. But it is effective in gathering response from some of the affected charitable organizations, whose spokesmen were restrained in their measured responses.
The Morning News
Local News for Northwest Arkansas
Rally Suspends Charity Donations
By Dan Craft
THE MORNING NEWS
FAYETTEVILLE -- Bikes, Blues & BBQ lost money in 2008 and won't hand out any charitable donations, according to event organizers.
The 2008 rally is about $100,000 in the hole, mostly a result of expansion costs, said Ken Mourton, chairman of the nonprofit organization's event board.
"There may be a down year or two where we can't do what we want in terms of donations," Mourton said. "It's a result of our expansion and the costs associated with that. We hope we can get out of the hole this year."
The festival has suspended charitable donations once before in its nine-year history, after losing about $55,000 on a Blues Traveler and Neville Brothers concert in 2003.
The rally originally raised money for local Meals on Wheels programs and started giving money to other charities in 2004. The rally has donated just over $500,000 since 1999. The largest total was in 2006, when $150,000 went to 31 charities.
The rally lost about $24,000 in 2007, bringing in $681,680 but spending $706,200, Mourton said. Board members agreed to put up collateral for a $100,000 loan so money could be given to charities, Mourton said.
Paying back that loan, purchasing additional fencing, upgrading electric service at the Tyson Track Center, increasing security costs and adding transportation service between venues all hurt the 2008 rally's bottom line, Mourton said.
While attendance in 2008 didn't seem to suffer, sales of official rally shirts, raffle tickets and other memorabilia all were down, Driver said.
Neither Mourton nor Driver could be reached Tuesday to provide a detailed breakdown of 2008 expenses and revenue. The organization has not yet filed a federal tax statement for 2008.
Board members decided against taking out another loan this time around, mostly because of uncertainty about the economy, Mourton said.
"That's one thing we just can't predict, so we're playing it safe," he said.
The news didn't surprise Kaye Curtis.
"We hadn't heard a word, so we kind of assumed there wouldn't be anything this year," said Curtis, director for senior services at the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, which operates local Meals on Wheels programs. "That grant isn't a significant portion of our budget, but it did help us serve more people."
The program received $7,500 from the rally in 2007.
"They're certainly not the only source of funds that's down this year," Curtis said. "We're seeing a big drop in donations and support across the board."
The lack of donations doesn't diminish support for the rally from some organizations.
"It's typically a pretty good amount for us, but we suspected it would be hard this year," said Angie Graves of the Jackson Graves Foundation, which donates annually to Arkansas Children's Hospital to support medical care for seriously ill infants. "We gave our gift as usual to Arkansas Children's Hospital, and we're working a little thin on operating money because of it. Still, it's a great event, and we understand their challenges. We hope they can turn it around next year."
The foundation received $4,000 in 2007.
Several changes for this year's rally should help reduce costs, Driver said.
The biggest impact will be fewer one-time upgrades, he said.
"We're done expanding the footprint, so the capital costs will be reduced," he said. "We're not buying any more fencing because we're not adding more beer gardens, and we're done with electrical work."
The Blues Train was a late addition in 2008, and lost about $8,000. This year, the board hopes to sell additional sponsorships on the train, add a day of service and restructure the cost of a ticket, Mourton said. The shuttle buses will be eliminated, he said.
Organizers also hope to increase "T-shirt" security, or nonpolice guards, and reduce the amount of overtime paid to Fayetteville and University of Arkansas police officers.
"That was a $60,000 expense last year, and we think we can take a good chunk out of that number," Mourton said.
Promoters of the 2008 headliner, The Allman Brothers, owe $17,000, Mourton said.
"That will knock the figure down some, whenever we get it," he said. "Obviously, we're not the only ones with money issues right now, but we're confident we'll receive it."
The financial hit to Peace at Home Family Shelter comes as demand for service is increasing, and other sources of support also are hurting for money, said Judi Selle, chief executive officer of the family services agency. The shelter received $5,000 in 2007.
"We're also very concerned about whether other donors have the money to continue their levels of support," Selle said. "At the same time, our shelter residents are up 62 percent in January over last year, so our expenses are up significantly."
Bikes, Blues & BBQ
By the Numbers
Bikes, Blues & BBQ
400,000: Estimated 2008 attendance
Nine: Years in existence
Two: Years without charitable donations (2003, 2008)
$500,000: Total dollars donated
31: Most charities supported (2006)
$150,000: Biggest total of single-year donations (2006)
0: 2008 Donations
Source: Staff Report