Virginia Beach City Council to weigh millions of dollars in festival sponsorships

VIRGINIA BEACH — Facing a “tough” fiscal year ahead, the City Council will hold a budget retreat to prioritize its goals Tuesday and Wednesday at the Virginia Beach Convention Center.

Virginia Beach is dealing with the rising costs of its flood protection program projects and school modernizations, among others. Meanwhile, residents are dealing with cost of living increases and want tax breaks without having to skimp on core services.

“We’re going to have a very tough go-around with this upcoming budget,” Mayor Bobby Dyer warned his colleagues at last Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The City Council may have to pull back on some spending, and among the topics on the agenda at this week’s retreat will be grants and sponsorships of festivals, regional initiatives and community programs.

While the council allocated approximately $6.3 million for grants in the current fiscal year’s operating budget, with several million more dollars from the Tourism Investment Program fund for large scale festival sponsorships, the body ultimately approved an additional $2 million outside of the formal budget process.

Those additional grants and sponsorships included:

  • $50,000 to the LAMBS Foundation for the Juneteenth Festival

  • $90,000 to Hampton Roads Pride for Pride at the Beach

  • $170,000 to the Hampton Roads Soccer Council for site work/design

  • $750,000 sponsorship agreement to Audacy for April Music Festival

  • An up to $750,000 sponsorship agreement to IMgoing for Reggae Music Festival in May

  • $25,000 to the Urban League of Hampton Roads for the Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Breakfast

  • $150,000 to the Virginia Musical Theater

Council members Barbara Henley and Chris Taylor have expressed concerns about doling out money to groups that don’t follow the grant application process.

“It’s important that everybody go through the same evaluation and the same responsible reporting on how they spend the money,” Henley reiterated to her colleagues at last week’s meeting.

Of the eight large-scale festivals programmed in the fiscal year 2023-24 budget, Virginia Beach spent $3.5 million on five of them — Bulls & Barrels Beach Rodeo, Jackalope, Beach It! Country Music, Something in the Water and North American Sand Soccer Championships.

The five events combined generated roughly $4 million in revenue for the city, comprised of tax revenue and parking funds, but had a much larger economic impact overall, according to a festival economic impact report.

An upcoming presentation on three other large-scale festivals — Neptune Festival, Boardwalk Art Show and Jeep Fest — is scheduled for the Feb. 27 City Council meeting.

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Also, the city has several robust grant programs which support dozens of local nonprofits and events.

Last year, the City Council approved a total of $5 million in the budget for its Regional Grant Program which benefits Hampton Roads’ nonprofit organizations, colleges and governmental agencies.

In addition, the city’s Arts & Humanities Commission provided $628,000 to Virginia Beach groups. Lastly, the city’s Community Organization Grant program, with more than $700,000, helped fund nonprofit organizations that provide services for Virginia Beach residents.

For these grant programs, groups must complete an application and a committee selects the recipients based on certain criteria. But in a last-minute budget action known as reconciliation in 2023, the City Council approved 13 additional grants.

“This is going to be a tough budget year, and we know everybody has got the same problems with increased costs and so forth, so we’re going to be hearing from all of these people that they need more money,” Henley said. “We need to be prepared about how we’re going to address this when the budget gets here.”

Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125,