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Festival of Lights faces red ink

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Posted: Friday, January 8, 2010 12:00 am

Going green wasn’t enough to keep Mother Nature from raining on the Festival of Lights kick-off Thanksgiving weekend. The damp start, combined with the economic meltdown and declining sponsorships, has left the nonprofit organization looking at a $10,000 debt.

“The Festival of Lights is not immune to the problems that other nonprofits and for-profits have had. The revenues have decreased just as city revenues have decreased and private enterprise revenues have decreased, which has created a problem. It’s a lean operation, and there is no room for declining revenues,” said Chad Blostone, a board member for The Foothills Homeowners Association, which supports the festival.

“A lot of people enjoy the light display, and I would hate to see it go,” he said.

No one is saying that the festival will stop lighting The Foothills at Christmas, but the declining sponsorships combined with some one-time costs have put the event into the red and has resulted in a call for donations.

“We realize that asking for donations in these economic times, and particularly during the holidays, for the median light display is a tough sell, regardless of how special the lights are,” former festival president Jim Crouch said, “but we have a very real cash flow crisis right now and don’t know what else to do.”

According to Dixie Prosser, the festival’s one part-time staff member, switching from portable generators to permanent power and energy-efficient lights will save the organization in the long run, but cost more than $60,000.

“It took us 11 years to save up that $60,000,” Prosser said.

Since 2007, sponsorships – especially from real estate agents – have declined, adding to the pressure.

Prosser said that the lights alone costs about $90,000 a year, along with insurance, storage and other costs. The two main fund-raising events are a wine tasting in June and the kick-off party in November.

Started originally by Del Webb as a marketing tool to attract homebuyers to The Foothills, the lights were picked up by the community when the homebuilder was prepared to pull the plug. In 1996 a nonprofit was created by residents who wanted to continue the tradition, and the HOA committed to $43,000 a year to help pay for the lights.

“The homeowners voted with the wallets to keep it,” Blostone said.

Rain at the opening weekend cut the kick-off party’s profits from a hoped for $20,000 to $8,000. Ironically, the festival has had rain insurance since rain flooded the kickoff in 1998, but the policy only pays out with 0.10 inches of rain and there was half that amount this year.

Prosser said that if the budget crisis continues, the festival may have to consider scaling back next year.

“It started as a grass-roots effort and its grown, which is a good thing, but it’s bad because many residents assume we are a business and don’t know that it’s a community event,” Prosser said.

Tax deductible donations can be made at www.folaz.org or sent to 4025 E. Chandler Blvd., Suite 70, No. C16, Phoenix, AZ 85048.

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