What's the Coast Guard Festival worth to the Grand Haven area? A lot - but more than dollars.
Marie Havenga
Aug 5, 2012


ary than monetary.

It's impossible to place a value on the smile of a youngster as he shakes hands with a Coast Guard cutter crew member, or the tear in the eye of a mother whose son is being honored posthumously for heroic service. You can't monetize the magic of a tradition that has been gracing the Grand Haven shoreline since the first Coast Guard picnic in 1924.

But in the midst of majestic ships, fireworks, stage shows and parades, there's a reality that runs parallel with any business, family or organization – finances. And the outlook for the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival Inc. appears strong.

Although red is a primary Coast Guard color, festival Executive Director Mike Smith has done his best to avoid it.

“I'm proud to say that, in the past six years that I have been the executive director, we have always ended in the black,” he said.

This year's budget stacks up with $438,761 in revenue and $436,977 in expenses.

Fest-onomic highlights include:

— Sponsorships provide a third of all revenue – about $143,000. This includes boat slip rentals. The festival leases slips from the city for the week, then rents them to boaters.

— The downtown carnival whisks in another $110,000, after expenses.

— Vendor fees, starting at $1,500 per participant, stoke up $31,500 in proceeds.

— Ticket sales for Waterfront Stadium entertainment bring in about $45,000, but net only $5,000 after entertainment and performer expenses.

— Fireworks bang $37,000 from the budget.

Weather and low attendance could knock the bottom line for a loop, but Smith said he aims for $10,000 to $15,000 revenue over expenses each year — which has led to a $200,000 reserve. That money goes toward the next year's festival.

“Thanks to our decisions as a festival committee, we have been dollar smart,” Smith said. “We build a new budget based on the realities of our past year and the economic forecasts of the nation for the future. Our projections for attendance are always a 'wait and see' —because weather, construction, entertainment and ships affect everything we might expect.”

Joy Gaasch, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, estimates 225,000 to 275,000 people visit the area during Coast Guard week. They bring business to local restaurants, gas stations, shops, hotels and cottage rentals.

Gaasch said the range of economic impact to the community for the weeklong party ranges from a conservative estimate of $5.5 million per year to a high of nearly $8 million.

“Certainly one could argue we have a lot of visitors to our community during the summer,” said Gaasch, who also serves as the festival's treasurer. “What does an extra $200,000 and some mean to the community? It's a celebration. It's a party. It's a way to celebrate Coast Guard and the relationship with the community. That comes back with increased sales for restaurants, gas stations, the folks that sell ice, suntan lotion, souvenirs. The list goes on and on.”

Gaasch noted that the festival provides a platform for showcasing the community to potential new residents and business owners. Even Coast Guard members have landed here after a festival experience.

To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.




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