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Summer concert series' cost a concern for Salt Lake City Council

SALT LAKE CITY — The summer Twilight Concert Series is headed into its 30th year, but there's a chance it could be its last.

Neither Mayor Jackie Biskupski nor the Salt Lake City Council set aside any funding for the downtown Twilight Concert Series next year in the budget approved last week.

Because the concert series happens during the following budget year, Salt Lake City usually funds about half of the concert series' cost about a year in advance, with the expectation that the Salt Lake City Arts Council would request the rest of the funding in a budget amendment the following fiscal year.

However, after several years of cost overruns — including an emergency request for $60,000 in 2015, $150,000 last year, and a $200,000 request for ongoing money earlier this year — the City Council began questioning the concert series' sustainability.

"The council has made it clear they're not going to do (budget amendments) anymore," said Karen Krieger, Salt Lake City Arts Council director.

Instead, the arts council has been asked to present a plan this fall that evaluates the concert series' overall cost compared with its economic benefits, as well as lay out a better, more predictable way to fund the concert series next year — if it continues.

Krieger said it's "way too soon" to say whether there will, in fact, be a 31st Twilight Concert Series.

If there is, however, it's expected to cost about $1.8 million, Krieger said.

"Our goal is to have a sustainable and successful Twilight," she said. "We're just not sure what that's going to look like. We're still in the early stages of developing a plan."

That plan could include private donations so the arts council doesn't have to go back to the City Council each year to request funding, Krieger said.

Over the past five years, the concert series' cost has increased due to escalating artist and production fees, Krieger noted. It's been challenging to predict each concert series' cost a year in advance, she said.

"The mayor's office is deeply committed to the arts and wants to make sure there are arts opportunities for all people in the city," said Lara Fritts, Biskupski's economic developement director.

However, Fritts said city officials want to have a better process in place so the arts council doesn't have to ask the City Council year after year for additional funding — and to fund the concert series in the fiscal year it occurs rather than over a year in advance.

City Councilman Stan Penfold said he recognizes the value of the concert series and city-funded arts programs, but a "pattern" of escalating and unexpected costs have frustrated council members.

"One of the challenges is we've never had a really good counting of what people's expectations were for Twilight," Penfold said. "It started as a small, free concert 30 years ago, and it just kept growing and growing."

Councilman Derek Kitchen said he and other council members have become concerned with the way the arts council has been funding the concert series and whether it's been a worthwhile investment.

"We do care about Twilight. We just want to see it better, but we also want to make sure the community resources and public dollars are being managed wisely," Kitchen said.

If the concert series continues, Penfold said the council could choose from a variety of options to control costs.

"We could say we want to do it, or maybe we want to scale it down or move it to (the Gallivan Center) where it's less expensive. There's a whole host of options," he said. "But it's too early to tell. That decision won't be made until this fall."