VIRGINIA BEACH — City Council voted 11-0 to give $250,000 to producers of the Pharrell Williams-backed Something in the Water Festival.
City officials had previously said the city would not be asked to contribute any money to the festival.
The payment amounts to a sponsorship of the festival, and the money will be paid out of the city’s tourism investment program, which is funded by taxes on restaurants, amusements, cigarettes, beach rentals, and hotels.
City Manager Dave Hansen said the request for support “is but a small contribution to a much larger effort that’s going on in the private sector to change the perspective of College Beach Weekend to something new.”
College Beach Weekend, a loosely-structured annual gathering of more than 30,000 students from the mid-Atlantic region, has been marred by shootings and violence in past years.
During a Nov. 12, 2018 City Council meeting, Deputy City Manager Ron Williams said Williams’s production team “haven’t asked for any direct payment from the city, and they in fact said they wouldn’t ask that.”
It’s unclear whether the city offered the $250,000 sponsorship first, or whether the festival producers requested it.
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While some residents during the public hearing disagreed with the city’s sponsoring entertainment and it’s use of the TIP, Councilman David Nygaard said he believed use of the TIP fund to pay for this $250,000 sponsorship was “entirely appropriate.”
Hansen said Williams’s production team has already spent $15 million producing the festival.
Speaking to a resident at the public hearing, Councilman Aaron Rouse said Something in the Water is more than just a party on the beach.
“This is a learning experience — not only for the students who will be coming here but for the city as well, to figure out how we’re going to grow together as a community going forth into the future,” Rouse said.
Councilman John Moss supported the measure, but noted there is no mechanism in place that allows City Council to reimburse festival expenses to general fund budgets that don’t come from the TIP, like police and firefighters who may need to work overtime during the festival.