Fans fill Place des Festivals to watch Jessie Reyez perform at a free outdoor show during the 2018 Montreal International Jazz Festival.
John Mahoney / Montreal Gazette
Quartiers des Spectacles is a victim of its own success, according the Montreal International Jazz Festival.The revitalization that turned the area around Place des Arts into a thriving, state-of-the-art cultural hub over the past few decades has ultimately contributed to taking much-needed funds from events that helped it happen, according to jazz fest CEO Jacques-André Dupont.“This situation has been unfolding for a while,” he said. “We’re having amazing success in Quartier des Spectacles over the last 10 years. And that success brought a lot of new development, with over 16 new real estate projects bringing amazing value to (the area). But all of that created collateral damage.”Dupont is the driving force behind an open letter signed by him and eight other organizations — including representatives of Just For Laughs, Montréal complètement Cirque, Tourism Montreal and the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal — laying out a situation that is creating a financial dilemma for events taking place around Quartier des Spectacles.The letter sounds the alarm about the loss of revenues from on-site concession stands caused by the growing number of restaurants in the area, as well as the lack of empty lots previously used by the jazz fest and other events.Related “We have lost a major amount of money we got from selling things at our official kiosks, that was invested in programming, innovation and running the festival year to year,” Dupont said. “Now that revenue goes to restaurant retailers, which is a great thing; but at the same time, we’re losing millions every year.“This letter is a way of saying, ‘We in Montreal are all together, we have this amazing ecosystem of festivals that is unique to Montreal and we need to take care of these problems, because they could create a larger problem in the long run.’”The space available to festivals around Quartier des Spectacles has gone from 1 million sq. ft. in 2007 to 500,000 sq. ft. this coming summer, according to Dupont. Meanwhile over the past three decades, money from concession and merchandise sales has gone from representing 20 per cent to just four per cent of jazz fest revenues.As the longest-standing event to be held at and around Place des Festivals, the jazz fest has been hardest hit, but other events are feeling the effects in their own way.“Smaller festivals that came later to Quartier des Spectacles have different problems,” Dupont said. “They never captured (as much) revenue from their free component.“Let’s say they arrived six or seven years ago, when there were already restaurants, they never had access to the money the jazz festival did when we picked up all those revenues to reinvest in our festival. So it’s a problem for the big events and the little ones.”The situation has not yet reached emergency levels, Dupont said, but by making the problem known he is hoping to ward off the worst-case scenario.“What I’m saying is I want this to be solved before we have a crisis. If you remember, there was a crisis in 2009 when the Formula 1 Grand Prix was cancelled for one year. What happened at the time was everyone sat down together and fixed the problem long-term.“I humbly believe our major festivals deserve the same kind of attention.”Dupont is not sure exactly what the solution is, and insists that it is not up to any one organization or level of government. He is aiming to start a conversation that will lead to collaboration on multiple fronts, for the benefit of all.“There are several ways it can go,” he said. “It’s complex. We’re not asking the public to pay more; they’re already paying for it (through food and beverage purchases). But all these free shows create a lot of wealth. That wealth is now in the hands of retailers, restaurant and building owners, which makes taxes go up for the city.“We need to find a way to reinvest part of that wealth into programming, innovation and having true, real development; because a big festival like the jazz fest is losing a lot of money.”Dupont’s ideal scenario is that a short-term solution can be found to bring respite to the jazz fest and other events over the next few years, and a that a broader solution can be found to help resolve the situation in the long-term.“My hope is that the City of Montreal will see it as an important subject on their radar,” he said. “I know that Tourisme Montréal is ready to help, and other stakeholders are ready to help. It’s a group solution we need.”firstname.lastname@example.org/TChaDunlevy