Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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The hipsters and purists may get a little snippy with it sometimes, but I’m sure that few residents doubt Bluesfest’s preeminent place in our music scene. The world’s biggest acts rock its main stages, while dozens of smaller and local acts entertain crowds for days. For many of those Ottawa bands, it’s the biggest stage they’ll play in their lives – not to mention a good paycheque and great exposure.

For hundreds of Ottawa’s kids, the Blues in the Schools program helps sharpen their music education – a field that has been otherwise eroding for years. The Be in the Band program groups tweens and teens together in groups working with great music professionals in our local community centres to play the Bluesfest stage as a “real” act – forging friendships and furthering their musical education along the way.

The festival creates well north of $30 million in economic activity, including for local small businesses. Hotels, bars and for-hire cars see increased business. The increase in tourism alone accounts for $2 million in impact.

Bluesfest, a not-for-profit and charitable organization, is good for our city.

On Thursday, during the tabling of the OC Transpo budget, we heard that OC is expecting to bring in $200,000 in new revenue to pay for increased service frequency for Bluesfest. In recent years, OC has put on extra buses before evening events, and particularly when the gate lets out.

Yesterday, an article in the Ottawa Citizen highlighted that there’s been no discussion of this with the festival organizers. As someone seeking to boost the fortunes of our Ottawa's music industry, I’m keen to see this resolved.

There’s no doubt that the viability of our music scene rests in part on offering great transit. I’ve been extolling the benefits of light rail for the music industry to anyone who will listen. When Phase 2 is completed, we’ll find new audiences for downtown festivals and venues, and I’ve no doubt it will make it possible to sustain new venues in our neighbourhoods further afield.

The benefits of providing great transit to music events and venues isn’t just economic. It’s critical to ensuring a safe way home for music fans after a night out, greatly reduces the carbon footprint of major events, mitigates residential neighbourhood parking and associated enforcement problems, and reduces congestion.

Conceptually, there’s no question in my mind that when OC Transpo customers want to travel by bus or rail, we should meet their expectation of service. This is particularly true as we’re seeking to find new riders in the face of flat trends. There is presumably significant incremental revenue from the additional ridership associated with festival-related demand, and we should see those numbers before approving any plan that forces new costs on Bluesfest that will get passed on through higher ticket prices.

As a city, we’re going to rely on Bluesfest to help us generate significant new tourism dollars in Canada’s sesquicentennial year as a marquee event. It’s an anchor in our local music scene and industry with year-round indirect benefits. I worked to have the local music industry included in this term of Council’s economic development priorities because I believe that it can, with relatively very small investments, help diversify and grow our local economy. Bluesfest is an important part of that.

Nickel-and-diming the festival hardly seems the right way to treat one of our key partners in these efforts.

Posted November 14, 2015