Sunflower Days Future Uncertain After 2019 Event Drains Funds

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Kevin Murphy

TOWN OF MIDDLETON–After exhausting a three-year accumulation of room tax revenue on the 2019 Sunflower Days, the town of Middleton’s Tourism Commission wanted to see financial projections before committing to hosting the event in 2020.

The town spent $167,643 on the 10-day celebration of sunflower blossoms after taking over the event from the Friends of Pope Farm Conservancy. Expenses came in about $6,000 under budget, Town Administrator Greg DiMiceli said on Sept. 24.

The town used approximately $121,000 in revenue collected during the past three years from a tax on rooms rented at the Quality Inn on Seybold Rd. Ticket sales and sponsorships contributed more revenue but there’s still about $45,000 to “back fill” to break even, DiMiceli said.

Room tax revenue was less than anticipated this year but there’s still about $15,000 to collect from the third and fourth quarter of 2019, said Deputy Treasurer Megan Hughes. The town also may need to tap room tax revenue generated next year to fund remaining 2019 expenses. While that’s legal, according to Town Attorney Eileen Brownlee, it reduces the amount of money available for 2020.

So, can the town fund its “marquee event” without a massive input of room tax dollars?

That’s possible, said DiMiceli, because some costs could be reduced, and income could be boosted by increased sales of ticket, food and beverages, and a more aggressive pursuit of sponsorships and underwriters.

In the months before Sunflowers Days, DiMiceli was concerned that the event would draw too large of a crowd and again overwhelm the ability of Pope Farm Conservancy to accommodate it.

So, publicity and advance ticket sales weren’t pushed, he said.

In July, DiMiceli became alarmed when advance ticket sales lagged behind expectations. To boost sales, DiMiceli turned to Race Day Events, contracted to run the festival, which stepped up social media advertising and contacted local media to “gin up interest,” he said.

“The second year we’ll be more savvy in running this,” he said. More advertising should increase ticket sales and using the concessions stands at nearby Pioneer Park to sell food and drinks adds another revenue source, he said.

Sunflower Days 2018 was cancelled when the Friends group said in April that it couldn’t continue to sponsor it. The off year probably hurt attendance this year, said DiMiceli, who previously said controversy stemming from charging a $4 admission fee, which riled the Friends group, attracted a lot of negative publicity and suppressed attendance numbers.

If the parking lot at the adjacent Pope Farm elementary is built in time, it would lessen the event’s biggest expense; shuttle transportation to the conservancy, DiMiceli said.

Expanding the run/walk, which was sold out, would also increase revenue, he said.

The Tourism Commission is composed of the town board and operator of the Quality Inn. The commission makes recommendations to the town board which has the final say. 

They asked DiMiceli to return with projected expenses and revenue before deciding on holding Sunflower Days 2020.

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