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Freedom Festival is fishing for more funds

But county says its share will remain at $50,000

PROVO — Organizers of America's Freedom Festival at Provo want $75,000 in taxpayer money to fund the annual Independence Day celebration.

But Utah County government officials say they'll get about $50,000 — the same amount as the last few years.

Festival co-directors Carl Bacon and Taylor Macdonald asked Utah County commissioners to give them the money to pay for the 25-event festival.

Macdonald said the money is needed for out-of-state advertising and promotion.

"What we're doing is trying to expand the festival beyond Utah County and beyond what it's been," Macdonald said. "We want to do some seven-state advertising."

Macdonald said America's Freedom Festival at Provo, which was named one of the top 100 Best Destinations by the American Bus Association and Destination Magazine, draws visitors from as far away as Pennsylvania.

"We've achieved national recognition. We're considered the largest patriotic event in the United States. What we want to do is capitalize on that," Macdonald said.

Macdonald said a lot of advertising is donated by sponsoring businesses and newspapers, including the Deseret News, but advertising the event outside of Utah requires spending money.

The total cost of putting on the festival comes to $1.5 million even with a huge number of volunteers contributing their time, he said.

Although fund-raising isn't as tough this year as it's been in some years, Macdonald said it's an uphill battle, even with patriotism at an all-time high given the number of soldiers fighting in Iraq.

"It is an annual, ongoing challenge. There's never a moment when you can breathe easy," he said. "Many of our sponsors have an interest in helping but it's still a matter of dollars and cents."

Commissioner Jerry Grover said it's exactly that for Utah County.

"It doesn't matter how much the event is talked about on the outside if it doesn't show up in the room reservations," Grover said. "That was the problem with the Olympics. There was lots of exposure, but we haven't seen an increase in room rentals."

Commissioner Gary Herbert said he'd like to allocate more money for the festival.

"I clearly have a bias. It's certainly the best thing for Utah and for Utah County," Herbert said. "They could ask for $100,000 and, if I could, I'd like to give it to them."

But both commissioners said the funding will depend on the numbers provided to the Tourism Council, which will allocate money from the room transient tax fund.

According to Grover, the festival actually only qualifies for about $17,000 based on the number of rooms that are shown to be rented out during festival dates.

"We bump that up because we recognize there's a bunch of tourists who come for the festival and spend money but don't stay in hotels," he said.