A $433,000 budget for this year’s New Year’s Eve public street party should be enough to cover expenses, but a key organizer stopped short Monday of promising no more deficits.
“Our goal is to stay on budget and continue a celebration that has value to the community which far exceeds its budget,” event co-chairman Sam Johnson said. “This is a growing event and private and public support are at an all-time high. God willing, with great weather. the celebration will work out just fine.”
This is the fourth installment of the city-sponsored party, which has a history of drawing large crowds and overspending its budget.
So this year, City Council gave organizers a coveted status known as line-item funding. That means the 2014 version has received $130,000 directly from council. All of that comes from meal taxes, the 2 percent patrons pay for prepared food and drinks sold in the city.
Line-item designation insulates this and future New Year’s Eve organizers from having to compete for public money or justify the event’s budget as well as its spending to a citizens’ committee. That council-appointed committee oversees about one-third of the city’s annual meal-tax spending and holds days of meetings to review applications that include attendance data, tax information and other financial records.
Nothing in council’s funding decisions, made in July, will prohibit New Year’s Eve organizers from filing a separate application with the committee for more meal-tax revenue.
This year’s $130,000 is less than the $170,000 council allotted for the 2013 event: $130,000 from meal taxes and $40,000 from hotel taxes that year. Party organizers for the December 2013 event were among a rare few event sponsors to whom council extended meal taxes and hotel taxes. Most applicants receive money from one or the other source of city revenue.
The budget for Wednesday night’s event is $433,200, said Johnson and Barbara Rackes, two of the key organizers. The goal is to attract 27,000 visitors, up slightly from the 26,000 at the 2013 event, Johnson said. Attendance at the party has climbed steadily from some 20,000 who went to the inaugural event in 2011.
Richland County Council has contributed $100,000 in public money, Rackes, the project manager, said.
A VIP lounge, which had been a source of past overspending, has been turned over to Southern Way Catering and will feature six eating and drinking stations that reflect cuisines from Italy, France, Germany, the United States, Asia and Australia, Johnson said. The lounge will be in the lobby of the BB&T tower at Main and Gervais streets and will require $125-per-person tickets and admission bracelets. About 560 tickets had been sold by late afternoon Monday, leaving some 240 more for purchase, Johnson and Rackes said.
Partiers on the street may elect to watch the stage show on two large LED screens that measure 16 feet to 21 feet wide, respectively.
Johnson, in addition to being the event co-chair since the outset, is an aide to Mayor Steve Benjamin, one of the originators of the popular bash and its loudest cheerleader on council. Rackes is a Columbia businesswoman and a Benjamin supporter.
Efforts to reach Benjamin Monday were unsuccessful.
Private contributions in cash or in-kind donations have reached $190,500 from 30 donors as of late Monday afternoon, the pair said. The sale of liquor, beer and wine is expected to provide income to balance the ledger for the 2014 event, Rackes said. A lack of corporate sponsorships in the past contributed to deficits that ranged from roughly $57,000 to $6,800 last year.
Johnson declined to provide a specific breakdown on private donations for this year’s event, saying that the state’s open-records law applies only to public money.
The single biggest contributor is Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, which has donated at least $50,000 in cash or in-kind services, Johnson said.
AFLAC is listed on the event website as the only donor at a $25,000 contribution level.
Nine sponsors are listed at the next-largest sponsorship level of $10,000. Alcohol, beer and soft drink companies along with The Hub student housing high-rise complex on Main Street and utility company SCE&G are on that website list. The utility company is sponsoring the fireworks show, Johnson said.
The $5,000 level includes contributions from 10 donors, among them the owner of Atlanta-based Hardball Capital that is to run the city’s $37 million baseball stadium. Others at that level include Spirit Communications, which bought the naming rights to the year-round facility for $3.5 million; City Center Partnership, the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism, and the Main Street Marriott Hotel, among others.
The $2,500 Supporting Sponsor level has eight donors, ranging from the Free Times alternative weekly newspaper to Hughes Development Corp. of Greenville. Hughes Development is the master developer of the 165-acre Bull Street complex that has commitments from City Hall of at least $31.25 million in public funding for utility lines, roads and street lights – excluding the cost of two garages and $29 million as the city’s portion of the year-round ballpark. The stadium is touted as the catalyst for a construction boom on the site.
Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority is listed as a sponsor because it is providing buses and shuttles for the event, Johnson said.
The 2013 New Year’s Eve party cost $473,079 and fell $6,868 short, Johnson said earlier this year. But that shortfall occurred after council twice increased public funding, adding $50,000 to the initial allocation.
The December 2012 event ran a deficit of $56,868, while the first party showed a profit of $367. But that small bit of black ink occurred because council approved $22,500 extra to cover more than anticipated security expenses to accommodate a larger than expected first-year crowd.
Councilman Cameron Runyan said Monday he will vote against any more public money for this year’s function. “I am not interested in bailing them out again. One hundred and thirty thousand is a sizable investment. They ought to be able to make it work (with) that.”