Union Reservoir - March 2010 - Photo by Doug Wray
Imagine for a moment that an organization approached your city and requested use of one of its facilities to hold a rally involving up to 50,000 individuals. Imagine that the proceeds from this rally could reach over $2 million but the sponsors offered nothing but payment of a $50 permit and a promise to tidy things up after the event.
Imagine a city council which accepted this offer and instead of negotiating a piece of the gate worth (modestly) at least $100,000, buried the decision for permit approval in the bowels of its bureaucracy where various unelected officials made the decision for them. Public input fell on deaf ears and was not encouraged. Virtually no debate was held by council.
Welcome to Longmont and the HeavenFest concert where rumors of untold riches are rife, all to be generated by throngs of visitors spending wildly in restaurants, hotels and the hundreds of tee shirt and souvenir shops dotting downtown (OK – that does require some imagination).
Reality check: With 918 hotel rooms- most of which are routinely filled on weekends and every restaurant packed with locals, we are to believe that these hordes of visitors will somehow manage in one or two nights to contribute as much as $900,000 in new tax revenue.
But neither Thornton nor Brighton, the homes of HeavenFest ‘09, found any significant increase in revenues related to the event. Why? In part because the attendees stayed in their campsites, or came for one day then went home. Most importantly, with venues already filled to capacity with locals, there was nowhere to spend new money. Longmont’s council and its boys in the back knew this- or should have. It’s called due diligence and objective analysis; both were AWOL when this deal was struck.
Enough- let’s get off the road to Oz and examine the facts:
Fact: HeavenFest is an arm of non-profit Worship and the World Movement (WWM). The announced purpose of this organization is (in part) to; “Proclaim God’s Word through worship and teaching at over 70 events” and; “Support an orphanage in Venezuela”. (source: 2008 IRS Form 990 tax return).
Fact: The gross income of WWM in 2008 was in excess of $300,000. That year it donated about 4.3% of declared income, or $12,923. to Miami-based “Home of Refuge” which runs the Venezuelan orphanage. Based on figures published on their web site, it can be assumed that WWN’s 2009 revenue was well in excess of $750,000. Orphanages received $35,000 or perhaps 5% of income.
Fact: WWM is not a charity and does not claim to be one. Its mission is to grow exponentially in order to reach ever growing multitudes. Let’s be clear on this; how they make and spend their money is their business and no one else’s. I have no bone to pick with WWM and no interest whatsoever in their business model.
Fact: Had a similar request for such a rally been made by any other musical group it would have been rejected out of hand- or subjected to rigorous negotiations for a share of the gate. Even then, council would likely have met a storm of protest and one can be sure there’d have been ample public debate. How then did HeavenFest slide in and walk away with a permit?
Damned if I know, but what is clear is that Longmont is in effect making a six-figure donation to a religious organization. Were this money going to a recognized charity it might be forgivable, but again-WWN is not a charity and consequently should not have received any special consideration. But it did.
Think what $100,000. (or perhaps double that amount) could do for Longmont’s homeless, its food banks, shelters and support groups. None of these will receive a red dime from this event because Longmont’s council ducked its responsibilities. Council has shown an appalling lack of objective leadership and essentially tossed away the opportunity to share in what could be a $2 million plus gate.
HeavenFest may yet prove to be a boon to Longmont and may leave Union Reservoir in better shape than it is today. Then again it may prove to be a monumental irritation to its citizens and an environmental disaster. Regardless the outcome, what happened on the road to a $50 permit should never be allowed to again occur.
Related article: HeavenFest, A Briefing