Kelowna council not in the mood to move Centre of Gravity Festival back to B.C. Day long-weekend

City says changes put in place, including moving it to last weekend in July, made for a better event this year.

Organizers of the Centre of Gravity Festival, held each summer in Kelowna for the last 14 years, may want to return the event to the August long weekend after moving it back a week last year, but the city is digging in and saying no.

Following presentation of a staff report on the 2014 edition of the festival to city council Monday, both staff and council made it clear the city feels the move to the last week of July was the right one and it has no desire to move the festival back.

“I’ve talked to tourism officials and business people and they all say it was right to move it off the (B.C. Day) long-weekend,” said Coun. Andre Blanleil. The long-weekend at the beginning of August is already one of the busiest in the city.

While several councillors and the mayor praised organizer Wet Ape Productions for how it runs the music and sports festival, which attracts a mainly younger crowd of twenty-somethings, they pointed to a report on the 2013 festival that recommended changes be made, including moving it off the long-weekend.

In a bid to keep City Park open for the community on the long weekend, deal with off-site problems such as public drunkenness, litter, and young people coming here to party without tickets for the event, the changes in dates was made along with other changes to how the festival is staged..

While everything went well from the city’s point of view this year, for organizers the move was seen to have led, in part, to a fewer people attending and a financial loss. That, in turn led Wet Ape principal Scott Emslie to suggest to the city the event be moved back to the August long-weekend.

But city staff recommended it be kept on the last weekend of July and council agreed. Its support for the status quo is based on what it sees as the success of several moves made by the organizers at the request of the city following the 2013 event. They included trying to diversify the festivals demographic to attract older event goers as well as young people, more of an emphasis on the sports activities, the use of more live music instead of DJs playing recorded music and more security on and off the event grounds in City Park.

Wet Ape paid and extra $26,000 for added security and clean-up crews off-site this year.

“The result was it had the desired effect,” said Mariko Siggers the city’s events development supervisor.

Wet Ape also stages the annual Keloha Music and Arts Festival, which goes two weeks earlier and is aimed at an older crowd. That festival’s furture is unclear because it does not make the promoters money.

While Mayor Walter Gray and Councillors Colin Basran and Maxine DeHart all said they they had learned Keloha wil be axed as of next year, Siggers said Wet Ape has asked city staff to reserve its July dates for in 2015. But what they willlbe used for is unclear.

While the city, area residents and the police were generally happy with how Centre of Gravity went off this year, according to Siggers, there are still challenges to be addressed.

Illicit drugs on the event site are still a concern, something Coun. Like Stack said needs to be looked at.

“I can’t help but be troubled about all the drugs,” he said, something he felt that may be expected with so many young people in attendance.

But he called it a “huge” concern for the RCMP and local health officials.

Despite that, he echoed the sentiment of the rest of council that they would be happy to see Centre of Gravity  return next year as long as it continues with the changes made for this years event and it held on the last week of July,not the B.C. Day long-weekend.

About 20,000 people attended the festival this year over it s three-day run, down from the 30,000 in 2013. There were 35 musical acts this year and eight sports featured, several on the water. The sports attracted about 400 athletes.

While  40 per cent of festival goers were from the Okanagan, another third were from B.C. and a final third were from Alberta, said the staff report.