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A leaner, livelier Rose Festival

Despite budget cutbacks, the festival association is in better shape than it was last year

It won't be apparent to parade-goers and other casual participants when the 96th annual Rose Festival gets under way this week, but the event's mother hen, the venerable Portland Rose Festival Association, has refocused and considerably pared down its expenses.

The belt-tightening reflects a determination arrived at last summer to put the association on a sounder financial footing while maintaining the festival's vitality, said Dick Clark, the association's executive director.

'Lots of festivals around the country and even locally have gone out of business or have had to dramatically cut back on their programs,' Clark said.

'In doing less, not being as widely spread out, we're able to do what we do better,' he said. 'We've been able to concentrate more on the parade.'

The 2003 Southwest Airlines Grand Floral Parade will have three more floats than it did in 2002. Despite the down economy, there will be 10 new sponsors Ñ including Ford Motor Co. and the Boeing Co.

Ford, the largest company among the festival's new sponsors, is celebrating its centennial in 2003. Its float will feature a flower-bedecked replica of a 1928 Model A Tudor, as well as roses from the garden that Henry Ford's wife, Clara, planted in 1915 at the couple's Fairlane estate in Dearborn, Mich.

In addition, the festival's official cars are Fords, and a Model T will be the Grand Floral Parade's pace car.

Boeing is sponsoring the international section of the parade, in some ways working in tandem with Southwest Airlines, the longtime title sponsor of the event Ñ Southwest's fleet consists of Boeing aircraft, Clark said.

Although admission to the Pepsi Waterfront Village will cost $5 after 5 p.m., up from last year's $3, the popular venue has expanded and will showcase 'a redesigned layout, national acts in a concert series,' Clark promised, along with 'better decorations, better music, lots of free stuff.'

The village, which attracts upward of 300,000 people during its 11-day run in Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park, is the festival association's largest single moneymaker.

Advance ticket sales for Rose Festival functions are ahead of 2002's figures Ñ and, in some cases, ahead of 2001's, Clark said.

'There are so many negative issues, from war and terrorism to SARS and school futures,' he observed. 'I think Portland is ready for this celebration now. É There's a buzz going right now that's really positive.'

Cutbacks in staff, spending

The results of an audit that showed the festival association lost $500,000 in 2002 didn't come as a surprise, Clark said. There were several 'budget busters' cutting into revenues last year, including dwindling sponsorships for the CART auto races and, in the wake of 9-11, huge increases in insurance and security spending.

As a result, a task force last summer looked at everything from postage expenses to personnel costs, eventually making more than 100 recommendations. 'We've executed almost all of the changes Ñ some big, some small,' Clark said.

They included reducing the size of the association's year-round staff from 16 to 13.

But the move that produced the biggest financial relief for the association was pulling out of the G.I. Joe's CART races and turning over the event's production and staging to the Championship Auto Racing Teams organization.

The auto race, set for June 20-22, still will be a Rose Festival event, and Clark said fans won't notice any changes. But the festival association's race budget is recording a huge difference, dropping from about $8 million to $3.7 million.

The association dodged another financial risk Ñ plus about $30,000 in insurance costs Ñ when it canceled the 2003 Hillsboro Air Show. Over the years, enthusiasm had diminished for the event, which sometimes fell far outside the traditional Rose Festival calendar.

The air show had gotten increasingly iffy in terms of attracting crowds, and therefore revenues, Clark said.

International exposure

This year's Grand Floral Parade will be broadcast to about 35 million viewers across the United States and, for the first time, in western Canada. In some markets, it will be broadcast in Spanish as well as English.

The festival association produces the telecast and buys television time; the vast exposure is a potent lure for sponsors.

'The mission is to promote the city and the region,' Clark said, and sponsors are attracted if they know they're getting airtime not only in Portland but also in a vast marketplace beyond the city.

Joe D'Alessandro, executive director of the Portland Oregon Visitors Association, said it's hard to quantify how many festival visitors come from out of town, but visitors' spending, plus additional spending by local residents who go to the various events, makes a strong impact.

A study done in 2000 estimated that the Rose Festival's economic contribution to Portland was $80 million.

D'Alessandro expects the CART races, which include Mexican and European race teams and also are televised, to bolster demand for Mexicana and Lufthansa airlines, both of which recently added service to Portland.

It's important that the Rose Festival, as a Portland institution, shouldn't be taken for granted, he said. 'We should realize what it does, in terms of visibility, economic enhancement, quality of life. There are few cities in the U.S. that really have a community festival that is their own, alive and well.'