Mateel Community Center Reveals the Extent of Its Financial Crisis
The Mateel Community Center (MCC) held a public meeting asking for community feedback on their next steps after losing $140k on Reggae on the River 2017.
General Manager Justin Crellin outlined the problem, its history, and potential solutions in a thirty-minute report. This culminated in the dire reality that the Community Center is around $533,000 behind. Half the amount is actual debt and the other half appears to be the lack of funds to operate for the 2018 season.
Crellin said, “From a budget perspective, the discrepancy between the $140,000 loss on the [Reggae on the River] festival and the $290,000 we budgeted to make on the event in 2017 is a $430,000 difference, underscoring the severity of the situation, and in combination with past debt [of $142,000], explains why our current debt load is $533,000.”
The Mateel says there is no possibility of a Reggae on the River event in 2018 without a partner or investor.
Crellin admitted the MCC has already spent the $100,000 dollars it had in reserves. The Board is considering which programs to cut and which to keep with its limited budget. Staff is being laid off and the remaining staff is on “essential hours.” No specifics were given about which positions have been eliminated.
Options for Moving Forward
The top options financially, according to Crellin, are partnering with an investor or leasing the Reggae on the River event to another producer and ensuring the Mateel Community Center’s funds ahead of the event. There are no formal proposals to present to the public at this time because the Mateel is currently developing the confidentiality agreements which are needed before the Mateel can enter detailed negotiations with any potential partner for the event. Crellin does say, however, the Mateel has already received at least two credible offers for this option without having yet released any sort of request for bids. Although the Board does say that decisions may be made as early as next week about the direction the Mateel will take.
Another option is finding 500 individuals, businesses, or families to buy $1,000 lifetime memberships. The Board was notably mute about its enthusiasm to take on such a responsibility, which would historically fall under its duty of “ensuring adequate resources to advance its mission” according to the National Council of Nonprofits.
And MCC’s bottom of the barrel options are selling the ROTR event outright, or taking a loan out on the Mateel Community Center property. If the Board did want to take a loan against the property, it must be voted on by the membership first. When the General Manager turned the microphone back to the Board, Garth Epling said “As a long time volunteer, it hurts my heart to see this downturn. [but] This hall is the asset we need to protect.”
During the public participation session, Peter Houston, a producer of the Northern Nights festival, expressed interested in supporting the Mateel with Reggae on the River. He said Reggae is how he came to Humboldt County and he wants to see it stay local. “We can work together,” he said.
In Crellin’s report, he spent a lot of time explaining how the Mateel Community Center came to be in this position. When the MCC returned to French’s Camp in 2013, the event was financially successful. Expecting the same for 2014, the Community Center was shocked when the event netted half their projections. Proceeds only totaled $178,000 when $358,000 was budgeted.
The Mateel seems to have then taken out loans from community members. Crellin kept referring to “bridge loans” that were to get the agency through the 2015 year. However, MCC has yet to fully repay these loans. “We have only chipped away at them,” he said.
When asked, Crellin and the Board declined to specify to whom this money is owed.
The next two years were strong. 2015 netted $249,000 and 2016 netted $278,000, but the debt from 2014 hung on the MCC propelling the Board into a pattern of using early online sales for the next event to fund ongoing operations.
Other factors played a role in the current budget crisis according to Crellin. Reggae on the River (ROTR) infrastructure required investment including installing new leach fields for a septic system for the kitchen and food vendors; engineering shade structures for the concert bowl; complying with Humboldt County Planning and Building Department permit codes on every structure on the Reggae on the River venue such as the stage and the beer barn; and constructing a rain catchment pond to make water available to the event for dust control and lawn for the concert bowl. And the MCC hall also had major upgrades such as a new indoor stage, an outdoor stage, and building improvements to the hall itself during this four year period.
In 2017, Crellin said, the organization had reined in its budget, reduced its costs and was on track with early ticket sales higher than the past year until the last two weeks before the show. The usual sales spike that happens in the final weeks before a show did not materialize this year. And local sales were disappointing, but the Mateel didn’t know that until almost the moment of the show because local ticket sales tend to occur just before a show. And then the on-site sales were low including the single-day tickets. Overall, the sales were down $312,000 from 2016! Additionally, with fewer people at the venue, MCC sales of beer, merchandise and parking passes were also down.
Where It Is Now
Crellin says as devastating as the poor income of 2014, at $178,000 was, a loss on Reggae on the River was unprecedented, unexpected and a crushing blow to the future of Mateel operations. The Mateel sees a lack of support from the local community and Justin wonders “If the locals don’t come [to ROTR] then who are we doing it for?”
Crellin says the Mateel’s annual budget, including Reggae on the River runs about $2,000,000 a year, that Reggae revenue is around $250,000 a year providing half of the hall’s operating funds. Another $100,000 comes from their number two event, Summer Arts and Music Festival. However, they said Summer Arts is a “risky” venture due to the possibility of rain which, when it happens, keeps people home. When asked, Crellin said revenue from ROTR during the years it was held at Benbow State Park was comparable, in the $250,000 range, but that the Mateel felt it was “a matter of diminishing returns” and that the lack of camping began to work against them.
The Mateel is attempting to look at the loss and what led to it. The line-up is widely criticized. The local and regional economy is in serious flux without a sense of what to expect. People are much busier and have said to Mateel insiders that taking time off to attend Reggae would be a personal sacrifice. Additionally, there are many more festivals and options than when Reggae began on that shadeless river bar known as French’s Camp, including nearby Sierra Nevada World Music Festival.
During the public comment and proposal part of the meeting, aspects of the Mateel’s lack of local support were revealed. A woman said she was born in Briceland in 1975. She said that upon returning to Southern Humboldt and Reggae on the River after an absence of many years, “I didn’t recognize it as the same festival….I didn’t see anyone I know” at the show, and she said the emphasis on VIP passes instead of families seemed like a mistake to her. And she also said Carol Bruno needed to be given credit because “she knew how to throw one hell of a party.”
Although echoes of these statements are heard around the community, no one else in the hall shared thoughts like these publicly. And the Mateel did not, in its remarks, acknowledge the role history or the role emphasis on income over community may have played in the downturn of the event. Nor were any solutions put forward about how to overcome this. The woman who did draw it out walked away after saying, “Good luck with your Reggae.”
Nonetheless, the true nature of Reggae’s ongoing worldwide popularity and respect was highlighted by Jerry from Burkina Faso in Africa. Jerry reports he had spoken to Reggae Artist Alpha Blondy about his desire to bring tools home to his country, and that Alpha Blondy had told him about the “greatest people in the world” at the Mateel and Reggae on the River. Alpha Blondie introduced him and the Mateel brought Jerry and his Tools for Change to Reggae in 2015 where he was able to collect a shipping container of tools such as wheel barrows, shovels, trowels, shoes, buckets, cooking pots, and other basic items. Jerry said the Mateel is loved in Africa and “we can bring you a lot of music and a lot of variety.”
Only one person thought selling the show outright was a good idea. And she said it very adamantly. No one supported the Board taking a loan on the Mateel Center property. And several people spoke of the need for the Mateel to consciously examine cultural core values and include them in any financial deals moving forward.
A businesswoman said she is glad to do business with the Mateel for Reggae on the River. She thanked the Mateel for not settling for the lowest prices possible and said the Mateel’s support of local business is important for the community’s economy.
That Mateel spends about $150,000 locally, brings about 4,000 people to the area, and generates about a million dollars of economic stimulation with the one event according to Board Member Garth Epling referring to figures from 2015. Part of the money spent includes $70,000 for law enforcement presence.
Agnes Patak a former Mateel Board Member reminded everyone, “it is all about us to coming together. We all need to support each other. The pot thing is going away, but we are still here and we have each other.”
Jimmy Durschlag spoke, identifying himself as KMUD Board President, “I was at our first venue, the Fireman’s Hall, when we chose our name.” Durschlag was also a member of the horn section in a widely popular Southern Humboldt band, Rod and the Ideals, composing a lot of the horn sections for their songs.
Referencing KMUD, he said, “we have always had a cooperative relationship. It is also critical to [KMUD] that you do well. $20,000 of our budget comes from Mateel-related events…. Just like KMUD, the Mateel is a community essential.”
Durschlag continued, saying “these organizations were created because we needed their services.” In this, he included Beginnings, Whale Gulch School, and Heart of the Redwoods Hospice.
Durschlag also said of the current time “[at KMUD] our pledge drives are more challenging. Old timers are tired, are moving away or have died.” He said, “We are going to an awful lot of memorials.” Then, referencing the new comers, he said, “This place is not just about growing pot and making as much money as possible. Communicating that is essential.” He acknowledged he is not sure how to get that message out, but he emphasized the need saying, “We must grow our sense of community.”
The Board did not make any decisions or even comment much last night. There is a special Board meeting next week on the 25th of September at 6:30 pm where decisions are expected to be made. If the membership wants to be involved in those decisions, it is important to be at that Board meeting according to Board Member Garth Epling. Board Member Cynthia Martells added, “The conversation does not end here.”
And the Mateel would like you to know the October 25th Underachiever’s “Renaissance Tour” is now a Mateel Forever benefit show. All proceeds will benefit the Mateel.
Our reporter, Kelley Lincoln, has an approximate 12 year history of volunteerism, employment and membership with the Mateel Community Center.