SnowGlobe 2018 a go; festival’s long-term future in Tahoe still uncertain
March 7, 2018
SnowGlobe is moving forward with plans for its 2018 music festival, but the future of the three-day event in South Lake Tahoe is uncertain.
At the council meeting on Tuesday, city staff and SnowGlobe organizers presented separate reports on the 2017 festival.
City Recreational Superintendent Lauren Thomaselli noted improvements to transportation and waste management, as well as areas that need work, namely sound management and protection to the community playfields where the event is held.
Fire and police also released their numbers for the festival, reporting 47 arrests and 170 patients seen by medical staff over the three-day event.
Founded in 2011, the festival was marred in its second year by the death of 19-year-old Alyssa Byrne, whose body was found in a snowbank on Jan. 4, 2013. The Petaluma resident apparently tried to walk back to her Stateline hotel room from the festival.
The three-day search for her focused on Stateline in Douglas County after a friend claimed he last saw her there late New Year's Eve. Security footage showed Byrne never made it back to Stateline.
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In 2014, a couple who attended the festival hours earlier were found unconscious in Stateline on Dec. 30 in freezing temperatures. They were rescued by hotel security.
SnowGlobe founder Chad Donnelly pointed to the $14 million economic impact of the festival — an estimation by an independent consultant hired by SnowGlobe in 2016 — the $80,000 the company donated to local nonprofits in 2016-17, and the 500 residents it employs every year.
He conceded, however, that while the festival provides a significant financial benefit to the community, it does take a toll — something the organizers are continually working to mitigate.
Donnelly noted that this year's damage to the community playfields, which was amplified by a lack of snow and 60-degree winter days, is something that won't be repeated. He said the organizers will cover the fields in their entirety if there is no snow for the upcoming festival.
This year only 40 percent of the fields were covered. SnowGlobe was contractually obligated to pay the city $250,000 to repair the damage; they are currently out at bid for a contractor.
Additionally, SnowGlobe organizers said they have plans to implement new sound-muffling measures to lessen the impact on surrounding neighborhoods.
"2018 will be a completely different sound set up," said Donnelly. "This will be a major step up in peoples' experiences who live near the event."
But residents living near the venue — many a part of the group they call the NoGlobe Alliance — are wary of these promises.
"We are in a warzone," said South Lake Tahoe resident John Ebert. "When the first note of the sound check comes through the door, my dogs react like they are being beaten. We used to have our kids and their families come up here on New Year's. We can't do that anymore. They've been here seven years. There is no improvement. Absolutely none."
Other speakers pointed to the impact of the noise on wildlife and potential health implications of long exposure to low-frequency sound waves (bass).
A number of people and organizations also spoke up in support of the event, pointing to the economic benefit for lodging and restaurants regardless of the quality of the snowpack that year.
Doug Williams, vice president of the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association, said that since the arrival of SnowGlobe, association members have reported an increase from two-day to four-day stays.
The international notoriety the festival has brought to South Lake Tahoe, the potential for additional return visits from attendees, and direct and indirect job creation were other benefits cited by speakers.
Ultimately council decided to proceed with the current event agreement, which expires after the 2018 festival. However, they instructed city staff to work with the organizers and the NoGlobe Alliance members in the coming weeks to see if there are additional conditions that can be added into the permits to mitigate concerns.
"American Express named it the fifth most popular event in the world in December," said councilmember Tom Davis. "That's big. Let's see if you can collaborate with each other. 2018 is a pivot point. If we can't solve these problems then we have a problem beyond this."
At Tuesday's meeting the council did not discuss the 10-year agreement SnowGlobe proposed back in August 2017 that would eliminate the financial contribution by the city and require the producers to contribute approximately $300,000 to the city over the course of the deal.
The agreement suggested adding a gradually increasing per-ticket fee starting at 50 cents and rising to $1.50 with all funds going to the city.
The festival organizers maintain that a long-term agreement would give them the financial security to invest in more site-specific equipment to mitigate sound and protect the playfields.
Donnelly said that although they would like to keep the festival in Tahoe, they have other options for new host towns.
SnowGlobe's eighth festival is scheduled for Dec. 29-31. The event hosts around 20,000 attendees.