The Mill Avenue Merchants Association board has taken drastic steps to save the debt-ridden but popular Tempe Festival of the Arts.
Tuesday, the MAMA board voted to turn over management of the festival to the Downtown Tempe Community, which is Tempe’s business improvement district. The move comes about a week after the board fired MAMA executive director Gary Sanders and marketing director Nathanael Pretlow. They could not be reached for comment.
The downtown district will continue to manage the festival, but it will approach the city to see if it will buy the ownership rights, said the district’s executive director Rod Keeling.
"This is a friendly agreement to address the fiscal issues and to ensure they’re on a sound financial footing," Keeling said.
Vice Mayor Barb Carter said the City Council is waiting to see the proposal.
"We like those hometown kind of events," Carter said. The festival might be run more efficiently with less administrative overhead and become profitable, she said.
The biannual festival was facing financial woes, including about $163,000 in debt to Tempe, which provides off-duty police officers, said MAMA board president Lorraine Oglesby.
"The debt keeps increasing," Oglesby said. "The end result is the festival needs to continue to serve the city and be part of the brand of the city. We’re looking at the best way for that to happen."
Not only have security costs increased, but the festival also has cut down on the number of booths it allows from almost 800 to about 500, she said.
Now that the festival is more selective, it ranks 14th in the nation, according to Sunshine Artist Magazine. In 1999, the magazine ranked it as 97th in the nation, Oglesby said.
MAMA, which now has four employees, will continue to exist in some fashion, though it might be under the umbrella of the downtown district, Keeling said. MAMA also cosponsors the wintertime Fantasy of Lights parade and the Fantasy on Ice, which includes a downtown ice rink. Those events also will continue without interruption, Keeling said.
The next arts festival will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 5-7 downtown.