Elvis Fest profits see 16 percent rise

TUPELO – For the second year in a row, the Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival made money.
Festival organizers said profits were up 16 percent from the 2009 event held last weekend. This year’s event made $92,944, compared with $80,000 last year, according to the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association.
DTMSA Executive Director Debbie Brangenberg cited lower ticket prices for driving ticket sales and thus offsetting a fall in sponsorship dollars. The organizers also cut expenses, namely in entertainment. And, she said, Elvis fans embraced the new Elvis-centered venue and drove up ticket sales.
“This year, it seems we hit on a really great formula,” Brangenberg said. “I think it’s one of the best we’ve ever done … It’s fun to be in this position. We’ve worked long and hard for many years for it to be successful. Next year, we want to improve it so even more people will come out.”
It’s good news for the festival, which last year was under scrutiny from the organization because of its hit-or-miss history with sustaining itself financially.
The festival was started 11 years ago as a fundraiser for DTMSA. Later, it became more of a community event.
Three years ago, the festival lost about $46,000 and DMTSA had to wipe out its rainy-day fund.
The next year, organizers focused on scaling back the festival and making it profitable, or at least able to break even. It went from two downtown stages to one. DMTSA also cut out a car giveaway that cost $25,000.
The organizers stuck with the model this year and continued to tweak it, with the guiding hands of co-chairs John Avila, Sherry Avila and DTMSA treasurer Keith Henley.
They set out to put the “Elvis in the Elvis Festival,” John Avila said earlier this year.
The Lyric Theatre was designated the “All Elvis, all the time” venue and was the scene for this year’s Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Competition. The four ticketed events at the Lyric sold out.
The rest of the festival was centered around musical acts at the Fairpark stage, which was graced Saturday night by headliner Jason Michael Carroll. Brangenberg said DTMSA next year will look at adding more Elvis flair to the Fairpark area.

How to spend it
Brangenberg said the organization will decide what to do with the $92,944 profit at the DMTSA board retreat, which will be held in late July or early August.
Last year, the board voted to put some of it in savings and some to create a new position, which was later filled by Megan McCarty, a public relations specialist for DMTSA who works closely with the festival.
The board also wanted a visible benefit to downtown so it allocated a chunk of the money to creating a master plan for the downtown streetscape.
Preliminary drawings were released earlier this year that depict a tree-lined boulevard with islands in Main Street and decorative paving in the streets and sidewalks. A park also is included at the corner of Front and Main Streets, bordered by the railroad tracks.

Contact Carlie Kollath at (662) 678-1598 or carlie.kollath@djournal.com.

Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal