Okra Strut officials agreed Monday to consider imposing an admission fee to help stop red ink troubling the nationally-known festival.
The look at a nominal entry charge comes after Irmo leaders said additional revenue and spending cuts are necessary to pull the 41-year-old festival back from the brink of being broke.
“It’s something we need to talk about,” Mayor Hardy King said.
Any fee should be “something low” – no more than a few dollars – so that the two-day gathering remains easily accessible to everyone, he said.
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Organizers estimate the gathering attracts as many as 50,000 visitors to the town of 12,000 residents straddling the Lexington-Richland County border.
The push for a fee came after festival organizers said a subsidy from Town Hall is needed to help make arrangements for the next gathering.
“You are going to have to help us get started,” festival administrator Susan Hoots said. “It doesn’t mean you have to pay for the whole Strut.”
Town Council members made it clear that greater scrutiny of festival spending is coming to assure it is kept within bounds.
Festival officials hope to recommend changes in operations to town leaders by mid-December.
The focus on festival finances comes after town officials reported the gathering lost more than $35,000 as it settled into its new home in Irmo Community Park last September.
An unspecified share of that loss stems from one-time expenses in learning what works and what doesn’t at the park, festival officials said.
Town leaders spent $1.8 million to develop that 14-acre site, opened partly to give the festival a permanent home as other locations disappeared.
The festival – one of the most popular in the Midlands – is run by an independent panel through a partnership with Town Hall.
The event has not been profitable since 2006, the result of overspending and unrealistic revenue forecasts, some town officials say.
Irmo chipped in nearly $100,000 over the past two years – slightly more than half the total cost – to cover festival deficits, officials say.
Sponsorships, vendor fees and beer sales are the main sources of festival income.
Festival officials will search for ways to bring in extra income such as a parade sponsor and aid from Richland County while pruning expenses, chairman Kirk Luther said.