The Griz is watching. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

The Griz is watching. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

City declines taxpayer funding, commits RMI funding to Griz Days

The City of Fernie traditionally contributes $10,000 to the popular festival

The Fernie Chamber of Commerce has reiterated its commitment to Griz Days 2021, with executive director of the chamber, Brad Parsell, telling The Free Press that “some version” of the popular festival will go ahead in March next year.

Funding for the festival has been a sticking point, with the business community – which normally puts up most funding – hurting from the pandemic, and the City of Fernie declining to support the festival through its own tax base in 2021 due to the uncertainties of the pandemic and financial constraints.

Instead, the City of Fernie – which supports the festival – has chosen to support the chamber seeking additional funding through the Resorts Municipality Initiative (RMI) fund rather than its traditional taxpayer contribution.

“The City of Fernie council has the final decision in awarding RMI funding to tourism-related events and infrastructure projects,” said Parsell.

“They indicated strongly at their last meeting they would support awarding the money they usually contribute themselves from this fund, as there have not been many applications this year and there is an excess of funds for events. The RMI application will also go before the Tourism Master Plan Champions Group for comment before coming back to council for a decision. We are hopeful we will secure these funds.”

Parsell has previously said that Griz Days can cost between $50,000-$60,000, though it would be halved in 2021 due to the economic conditions, and the festival being leaner.

At the last city council meeting, discussions on allocating funds had been caught up on the financial contribution from the city, with councillors opting to hold on to that funding given the trials and uncertainties of 2020.

The chamber normally receives $15,000 in funding from the City of Fernie for Griz Days, made up of a mix of $5,000 from the RMI, and $10,000 from the city budget.

The city had already indicated it would support the $5,000 from the RMI, but councillors declined to hand over taxpayer money to make up the difference, instead opting to dip further into the RMI to support the popular festival.

Mayor Ange Qualizza said that she was “not entirely sure about the future, and where we want to put our resources,” given changing directives from the BC Provincial Health Officer.

Qualizza also raised the point that many municipalities didn’t offer any financial support for festivals, but instead made donations in-kind through staff time and waiving fees.

Councillors Hamilton, Iddon and McIsaac all indicated that while they were uncomfortable with spending taxpayer money in the form of a financial contribution, they were supportive of directing more RMI funds to the festival, with Hamilton pointing out that in a few months, Fernie “might need some sort of outdoor festival for mental health or community spirit.”

McIsaac concurred, saying that given the hardships of 2020 and the funding available through the RMI, “let’s ensure at least that one festival gets some financial opportunity to proceed in some fashion.”

Council did not vote on the decision at the meeting, instead directing staff to come back with an amended agreement between the city and the chamber that would see the festival supported through the RMI funding.

While the chamber has been seeking a formalized, multi-year agreement with the city that would see the chamber organize the festival through to 2023, councillors indicated they would rather support a one-year agreement given the pandemic.

On what to expect of Griz Days 2021, Parsell said that it would of course, look very different, with safety at the forefront of all plans.

“Fernie visitors and locals can expect a lot of virtual programming being streamed out to folks online over that weekend – including the Extreme Griz competition and a short documentary about the history of this quirky festival. This broadcasting of festival elements provides us a unique opportunity to bring the festival into homes of people not physically in Fernie, and hopefully encourage folks from all over Canada to come check out this amazing festival in future years post-pandemic. There will be a major fireworks display set to music that will be broadcast into people’s homes from a local radio station, so people can watch safely without gathering,” he said.

“There will also be Griz appearances and animation of downtown, trails and the ski hill that people can enjoy as they move around the community – without hosting any single event that would draw a crowd. And of course, raising money for local charities is a cornerstone of Griz Days. We will be working with our partners at the Fernie Rotary Club on a Griz pin campaign as well as exploring other charitable opportunities.

Parsell said that with funds potentially largely coming from the RMI, the Chamber would need to re-think how it could justify the expense given RMI funds were intended to drive visitation, but visitation in 2021 was problematic given the pandemic.

Therein lay a great opportunity given the virtual nature of most events in 2020, said Parsell.

“We have a really awesome opportunity to put Griz Days in front of a bunch of people who have never seen it before, and hopefully convince them to pay a visit to Fernie and this quaint festival post-pandemic.

“It’s a powerful tool to draw visitors – maybe not for the next event – but for future events.”

Issues around the pandemic were front of mind however. “Obviously, like everyone else we’re watching what’s happening to the east and west of us.”

City of Fernie councillors will vote on how to proceed with supporting Griz Days at a future council meeting.

READ MORE: Griz Days to go ahead in 2021, will ‘look different’: Chamber
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