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ACL Fest could stretch to two weekends next year

Sarah Coppola

Austin City Limits Music Festival producers are in talks with City of Austin officials to extend the popular three-day event by an extra weekend next year and in future years.

C3 Presents, the company that produces ACL Fest and other big events nationwide, would also increase the money it donates each year to help improve Austin parks, including a yet-to-be-determined amount "in the millions" to help renovate and maintain Auditorium Shores, C3 partner Charlie Jones told the American-Statesman.

In addition to paying park rental fees required of all big events held in city parks, C3 over the past several years has given millions of dollars to the city and the nonprofit Austin Parks Foundation to upgrade Zilker Park's Great Lawn, where the festival is held, and other Austin parks.

Next year's festival would take place Oct. 4-6 and Oct. 11-13. That would help meet an increase in demand and allow more people to attend the festival, Jones said. During the four days between the weekends, part of the Great Lawn would remain open to everyday park users. C3 has also offered to pay for additional security and cleanup crews in surrounding neighborhoods during the festival, Austin Parks Director Sara Hensley said.

Jones said he has become more interested in donating money to Auditorium Shores as conditions there have deteriorated. C3 this spring produced the first Austin Food & Wine Festival there, and warm weather, dry grass and heavy crowds combined to create a dusty experience.

"It's the main downtown public assembly venue for the city, but it was a dustbowl," Jones said.

"I have been doing events in Austin for close to 15 years and at Auditorium Shores for a long time. We use public space and have a responsibility to take care of it. It's obvious that the conditions at Auditorium Shores" are sub-par, Jones said. "We want to help the city get (Auditorium Shores) back to the standard it needs to be to protect the future of our event and of other events."

Jones and Hensley said that once Auditorium Shores renovations are done, they would like to see stronger language written into future contracts with groups that want to use that park space to keep it in good shape and repair any damage.

Hensley said her department — which has had stagnant or decreased budgets over the past few years — does not have the money to overhaul Auditorium Shores. But an infusion from C3 could pay for new sod, a new irrigation system, new restrooms and maybe a food concession space, she said.

"We'd like to improve the area not just for big events, but for general, everyday use by the public," Hensley said.

Hensley said the City Council will review and vote soon on the idea of extending the festival and on C3's donation offer.

Details such as the donation amount and when the Auditorium Shores improvements could begin will be ironed out over the next few weeks, Hensley said.

Even if the money were spent on Auditorium Shores, C3 would continue to hold ACL Fest only on the Great Lawn, Jones said.

Jones and Hensley said they started talking more than a year ago about the possibility of improving Auditorium Shores and only began discussing in the past few months the idea of extending the festival dates.

C3 paid more than $2.5 million a few years ago for the city to make major upgrades to the Great Lawn, including new sod and irrigation systems, Hensley said. When heavy rains turned the fresh turf into a muddy mess in 2009, the company paid to repair the damage.

In recent years, C3 has also given the Austin Parks Foundation 8.5 percent of its ACL Fest ticket sales to help improve parks citywide. As part of the extended festival dates, C3 would increase that percentage, Jones said.

Like any other event producers, C3 must pay the parks department fees for the use of city park space. A 2009 Statesman story said C3 paid more than $50,000 to rent Zilker Park for 19 days before, during and after the festival, cover utility and public safety costs and pay for the time that city employees spent on the event. Also, C3 has paid the city $1 per ACL Fest ticket sold for several years, Hensley said.

Jones and Hensley didn't have a precise tally late Wednesday of how much money C3 has donated over the years to the city and parks foundation for park improvements.

C3 has also paid for better equipment to help city parks crews maintain Zilker Park over the long term, Hensley and Jones said.

The 10th-annual ACL Fest last fall drew about 75,000 people a day to Zilker, Jones said. Three-day passes for this year's festival, scheduled for Oct. 12-14, ranged from $185 to $200, Jones said. All tickets have sold out, according to the festival website.

A 2009 estimate from the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau said the festival pumps at least $27 million a year into Austin's economy.

Hensley said Wednesday that no other company or group has donated as much or as consistently as C3.

"It has been a true partnership," she said. "There is a lot we wouldn't have been able to do without this partnership."

Contact Sarah Coppola at 912-2939