What could be shaping up to be the town’s sequel to last year’s Best Summer Ever will see venue changes for some key events.
During a Special Meeting of Mammoth Lakes’ Measure U Steering Committee Tuesday, it was revealed that Mammoth Mountain Ski Area has plans to revitalize Canyon Lodge as a major summer events and concert venue. Canyon has a much-storied history as a big concert venue during the ‘70s and ‘80s, but of late with few exceptions hasn’t been as active.
MMSA Senior VP Bill Cockroft said the plan this summer is to “recapitalize” the lodge, which will play host not only to the new incarnation of the Kamikaze bike racing event, but also to Mammoth Rocks, Mammoth Bluegrass Festival and the Wine Festival. Rocks and Bluegrass were previously located in the Village at Mammoth, and the Wine Festival was held at Sam’s Woodsite. Rocks and Bluegrass might split days and venues with the Village, though that has yet to be worked out.
MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory said this week that the Mountain plans to spend about $1 million creating the venue.
Cockroft elaborated that the idea is to give both the events and their patrons a “common venue,” and make better use of MMSA’s real estate and resources. He said the hope is that shared costs, particularly of building one main stage for four events, would make it more efficient. While he acknowledged it does mean a change from what patrons have been used to, the events will still have a 10 p.m. curfew and the gondola will be employed, helping the Village with at least pass through traffic. The goal, said Cockroft, is to drive more tourism for Mammoth.
Village at Mammoth Director of Events Robert Richards said he was fully supportive of the idea, and if the Village can host second stages for some of the events, he’s happy to partner. “Anything to help these events grow and be successful,” he said.
Not everyone is heading up the hill. According to co-organizer Cathleen Calderon, Villagefest, which celebrates 10 years this summer, has no plans to relocate, and in fact will expand to three days this year. Mammoth Margarita Festival co-organizer and Gomez’s co-owner Russ Squier said that event plans to stay in the Village as well. “Some models indicate simultaneous events and with the gondola running, all that has potential benefit for the Village,” he posited. “The Kamikaze is a natural for Canyon, and if it brings in 5,000 riders, I’m not worried about driving people to the Village. They’ll come.”
Squier added that Mammoth Rocks is very Village-centric, but it’s too early to say what the effect if any the move would have. “We’re trying to build Mammoth’s two-season visitation and I’m for whatever makes that happen.”
During Measure U funding request deliberations, Committee member Bill Sauser noted that the Village has been one of the only places to have events, but mentioned his desire to “drive events all over town.”
Mammoth Rocks co-organizer Brent Truax also mentioned that the summer would still have three events each at Cerro Coso College and Sam’s Woodsite, and that he’s anticipating Rocks splitting days between the Village and Canyon. “There will be more venues,” he said. “It’s about economies of scale. Many of these events want to expand and they need more room. I’m not sure we could afford to [expand Rocks] otherwise.” Whether Rocks will change from a free event to a ticketed type of format hasn’t yet been determined.
Not moving from Sam’s Woodsite this summer are venue locations for the Jazz Jubilee, the Hop & Sage Festival, the Labor Day Arts Festival (one of two summer fundraising events for the Mono Council for the Arts), and Bluesapalooza and the Festival of Beers.
Bluesapalooza organizer Sean Turner said he was asked earlier this year to consider relocating the festival to Canyon as well, but opted against for a variety of reasons. “First, let me be clear: I want everyone’s event to be as successful as possible,” he stated. Turner went on to say that, while expansion is a concern for his festival, the 5,500 maximum attendees at both Canyon Lodge and Sam’s Woodsite is a net zero in that regard.
His next concern is weather, citing the tree cover as more conducive to his patrons and bands, making it worth staying at the Woodsite. Turner also mentioned potential cost considerations, including fees for running the gondola and a 3.25% fee to the U.S. Forest Service. There is also the matter of not being able to keep as much of the bar receipts, which is typically a huge moneymaker for the California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA).
Turner indicated he wants to keep the feeling of being independent, especially when it comes to setting an atmosphere for the numerous craft breweries that show their wares at the Festival of Beers. “Bluesapalooza needs to remain independent in appearance and actuality,” he described. “Mammoth Brewing, which hosts the Festival of Beers, has a great relationship with the CCBA, and we want to keep that spirit intact.”
He also wants to make sure that several local nonprofits that raise money at the event are allowed to continue to do so. Last year, Turner pointed out, the Mammoth Elementary School PTO, Mammoth Lakes Fire Department, Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra, Mammoth Hospital Cancer Support, Mammoth High School’s Rotary Interact Club and the CCBA, the only non-local non-profit, which together raised an estimated $30,000 on their own.
Other Measure U news …
The Committee mulled over $538,155 in funding requests, with a total of $498,400 available from Measure U, which is derived from a special voter-approved tax on utilities. Committee members recommended $449,635 to help fund additional wayfinding, Eastern Sierra Transit Authority GPS enhancements, the next phase of the Whitmore track project and various summer events (including $35,000 for the Mammoth Bluegrass Festival and $50,000 to MMSA for help in reestablishing the Mammoth Kamikaze), leaving a remainder of $49,165. Town Council has to approve the recommendations.
The remainder was important at least to Sauser. “If we keep giving away all the money, we’ll never have any leftover to buy the infrastructure to have events,” he said, referring to acquiring parcels such as Sam’s Woodsite and/or the Dempsey property. Currently the Dempsey land is not for sale, but the Woodsite is on the market. This year the Committee also used tools such as fall deferrals for some requests, as well as requiring payback for seed funding if events are profitable. Some events, however, said they’d like to see profits remain with the events as seed money for next year, contending that might reduce the amount of requests.
One new event, a Mammoth to Bishop bike ride and concert at Millpond, met with some concern. Committee members seemed to think that there might be too much benefit for the Bishop area, especially lodging, since the event essentially finishes there. Organizer Lloyd Cearley said he thinks Mammoth would benefit equally as well, if not better. Cearley noted that earlier in the day he got the opposite reaction from the Inyo County Board of Supervisors, who were concerned that Mammoth would benefit more than Bishop!
Committee member Joyce Turner abstained from discussion or voting on the Hop & Sage Festival, since her company, Mammoth Brewing, puts on that event. Bluesapalooza does not seek Measure U funding support.
Recreation Manager Stu Brown said the Town is contracting with a consulting firm on launching a Special Events Feasibility Study, planned to commence in April and be ready for review by Town Council sometime this summer. The focus, Brown said, will be both on currently existing venues, including Canyon Lodge and Sam’s Woodsite, as well as on proposed venues that don’t yet exist.