Andouille Festival admission hike avoided

Published 12:10 am Saturday, October 15, 2016

St. John administrators hoping 2016 event ends pattern of operating in red

LAPLACE — Andouille Festival patrons were spared a rate increase only days before the gates to St. John the Baptist Parish’s popular event swung open.

During its meeting Tuesday night, Parish Council members torpedoed an attempt by administration officials to raise tickets prices from $3 to $5 for adults and from $1 to $2 for children. However, adding confusion is the fact marketing materials with the increased price had already been sent out to the media and other outlets

“It’s a quality-of-life event,” Councilman Michael Wright said. “And a tourism event.”

He added raising tickets prices would hurt attendance.

Director of Economic Development Jerry Jones Jr. said the festival traditionally runs in the red, adding the increase was an attempt to offset the deficit. He said based on the new admission prices and factoring in an attendance figure of 23,000 paralleling that of a year ago, the festival was projected to turn a profit of about $800.

A year ago the festival operated more than $30,000 in the red.

Jones said the Parish cast a wide marketing net this year, for the first time spanning from Baton Rogue to extreme southeast Louisiana, and because of that he expects attendance to hover around 25,000,

“It’s been proven historically with (admission) raises it will decrease attendance,” Wright countered, noting even with the same admission prices, an increase in attendance would “accomplish what we set out to do.”

Councilman Lennix Madere, who was very vocal and even challenged parish officials on several occasions during the four-hour meeting at recently refurbished Joel McTopy Chambers in LaPlace, said many parish residents are already struggling financially from the double whammy of spring tornadoes and August flooding.

“Now we are asking people to pay more?” he said.

“If you want an increase, find more sponsors. A lot of people have money. Mr. (New Orleans Saints owner Tom) Benson has money.”

Parish Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard called the increase a disservice to the vendors, noting festivalgoers would have less money to spend at the booths.

“I don’t like the idea of saying the festival loses money,” added Hotard, who has been involved with the event for many years. “It is a community event.

“It’s not a loser; it’s an economic stimulant.”

Several Council members pointed out the annual Fourth of July fireworks display, which checks in at a cost of $40,000 for 20 minutes, also loses money.

“I don’t want to make it seem like we are trying to squeeze everybody and put (the financial burden) on the backs of our residents,” Hotard said.

Council members also expressed dismay they were not informed of the increase.

Hotard and other Council members said they learned of the new rates on social media.

Parish Chief Administrative Officer Laverne Saulny said her goal is to have the festival break even. She said the festival has already secured $90,000 in sponsorships.

— By Richard Meek