New and expanding festivals bring visitors, revenue

Organizer: Venues, hipness of Austin make city popular for multiday events

With at least three new festivals in 2012 and two weekends of the Austin City Limits Festival planned for 2013, city officials say the infrastructure will be in place to meet the increase of multiday events.

Bigger festivals such as the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference and ACL make up a sizable portion of Austin's tourism industry, which generated $4.3 billion for the city's economy in 2011, said Julie Chase, vice president of marketing and tourism for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau. Organizers of festivals that started in 2012, including the Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, estimate the new events generated several million additional dollars for the local economy.

From the available venues to the cachet of cool Austin has acquired, Moontower organizer Jim Ritts said there are multiple reasons for the increase in local festivals.

"I think it's fantastic. It fills hotel rooms, it brings folks to the restaurants, it brings folks in to do some shopping," Chase said of the larger festivals. "I think all around, it's a good deal for Austin."

Ritts, whose inaugural event brought approximately 20,000 festival goers to multiple venues for stand-up comedy last April, credited the city with largely staying out of the way and not creating unnecessary headaches. The successes of ACL and South by Southwest have likely made the city comfortable with hosting festivals, Ritts said.

Two weekends of ACL

All of the new festivals combined will not have the impact of a second weekend of ACL, multiple festival organizers said.

Austin City Council voted unanimously in August to extend ACL to an additional weekend. Lisa Hickey of C3 Presents, the organizer of ACL, said the additional weekend was added in response to the demand attached to the music festival, which has sold out of tickets almost every year since 2004.

In 2012, ACL generated approximately $102 million in revenue for the city, Hickey said.

"[The two-weekend festival] could potentially double that economic impact," she said.

Before approving two weekends of ACL, members of several neighborhood groups voiced possible concerns about the impact it could have on the area.

Cyndi Collen, the president of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association who expressed some initial concerns about an expanded ACL, said C3 Presents has gone above and beyond her expectations to help mitigate most of the potential problems such as noise, traffic and parking.

"We want to be gracious hosts for the festivals, we want to share the city, share our beautiful parks, share our love of music, but we want to do it in a balanced way," Collen said.


Special events such as new and existing festivals can pose both a challenge and an opportunity for public transportation, Capital Metro spokeswoman Erica Macioge said.

Special events are good catalysts for people to try public transit perhaps for the first time, she said. If a person has a good first experience, they are then more likely to consider using public transit for everyday trips. However, Macioge said that many festivals coming to Austin involve street closures and bus route detours that are challenging to the public and require additional staff or resources to manage operations.

To help keep up with the influx of visitors, multiple new hotels are being planned for Central Austin, said Kevin Grandin, a regional vice president for White Lodging, a hotel management company.

White Lodging is planning a 296-room Hyatt Place to open in March at 211 E. Third St., a JW Marriott with more than 1,000 rooms to open in early 2015 on Congress Avenue between Second and Third streets, and a 326-room Westin Hotel to open in 2015 at the intersection of Fifth Street and San Jacinto Boulevard.

Festivals are one more way to bring people into Austin and fill hotel rooms, Grandin said.

"There is really no downside for [festivals for] us," he said.