Coachella's Hometown Aims To Cash In On Fest's Rising Tide
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
One community in California has turned music for its renewal. Indio, near Palm Springs was hit hard by the real estate crash. The city made steep budget cuts to avoid bankruptcy. Indio also happens to host the highest-grossing music festival in the world - Coachella - which wraps up this weekend.
In today's Business Bottom Line, Ben Bergman from member station KPCC, reports on the city's efforts to benefit from a music festival's riches.
BEN BERGMAN, BYLINE: Plumber by day, Indio city councilman by night, Sam Torres says he was prepared to become the most hated man in the city, and he very well may have achieved that goal. His offense? Proposing a six percent tax on Coachella tickets.
SAM TORRES: I didn't look at these guys at the first place to go in order to buy new sofas for the city hall. I looked at these guys as a way to help us continue to maintain our city.
BERGMAN: Sipping a beer on the polo fields where the festival is held, Torres says he looks at Coachella with a mix of awe and envy. When promoter Goldenvoice started the festival in 1999, it nearly went bankrupt. Musicians worried if they would get paid. At the same time, Indio was prospering in the housing boom. Now their fortunes have reversed.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Coachella! Coachella!
BERGMAN: Even though they cost a minimum of $349, all of Coachella's tickets get snapped up as soon as they go sale.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Listen Coachella, Hurricane Wu. Hurricane Wu. Hurricane Wu.
TORRES: We had to step up this plate like a business.
BERGMAN: Again, city councilman Torres.
TORRES: Everyone says government has to be more like business. When a government acts like a business, they look at us like, what's wrong with you guys? You're supposed to be like Mother Teresa and just sponsor these things and expect nothing in return.
BERGMAN: Goldenvoice is known for its secrecy, and for this story they refused any comment. As we were leaving the polo fields, four security guards walked over and told us to leave.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You can't have any recording equipment. I know you're recording right now. You gotta go.
BERGMAN: The ticket tax got an even more unwelcome reception. Torres's fellow city council members wouldn't even bring the proposal to a vote. When Torres said he would take the ticket tax directly voters, Coachella threatened to leave Indio. Panic ensued, and Torres backed down.
One of the biggest opponents was Elaine Holmes, who's now Indio's mayor.
MAYOR ELAINE HOLMES: Granted, budget shortfalls are an issue for many cities. We work through it. I'm a small business person, so to add tax to something, to me, is just really not where I wanted to go, particularly because Goldenvoice is very, very generous in what they provide the city.
BERGMAN: A Goldenvoice-commissioned study showed it pumps more than $90 million into Indio's economy. And though it's far less than Torres wanted, starting next year the city will collect a $5 fee on every ticket - about a million dollars a year. It's part of a new agreement that keeps Coachella in Indio until at least 2030.
HOLMES: This is just a several block area that is expanding now with local artisan culture and hopefully a few more restaurants.
BERGMAN: Standing near a deserted Main Street, Mayor Holmes says the long-term economic boost of hosting Coachella is more valuable than a big ticket tax.
HOLMES: It's definitely a work in progress. It's kind of fun.
BERGMAN: And I mean, is it fair to say you hope, you know, the Coachella will sort of be the spark that revitalizes this area we're looking at here?
HOLMES: Certainly, I think from the standpoint of the number of people, it's putting Indio on the map.
BERGMAN: The city will soon get its first new hotel in nearly three decades.
For NPR News, I'm Ben Bergman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.