TDA approves $100,000 for Chow Chow festival

Chow Chow data
BRINGING HOME THE BACON: The economic impact of the inaugural Chow Chow festival included an increase in overnight stays, business spending and nationwide publicity for Asheville and Western North Carolina. Data provided by Tourism Economics in conjunction with Explore Asheville. Graphic courtesy of Katie Button Restaurants

The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority approved a $100,000 contribution toward next year’s Chow Chow culinary festival at the board’s Oct. 30 meeting. The money represents a $25,000 increase over the BCTDA’s support for the event’s debut this September. 

“For the first year, the challenges are so significant in generating attendance because you don’t have any photography [and] nobody really understands the quality of the event,” said Stephanie Brown, president and CEO of the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I think the event has an extraordinarily strong foundation moving forward and I think [when] we’ll look back [in] 10-15 years, we’ll have an event that’s even more successful.”

Chow Chow: An Asheville Culinary Festival took place Sept.12-15 and featured a mix of chef demonstrations, food and beverage tastings, hands-on activities and panel discussions. According to a presentation by Katie Button, the chef and owner of Cúrate and president of the Chow Chow board of directors, and Meherwan Irani of Chai Pani Restaurant Group, roughly 3,200 people attended the festival’s inaugural weekend, 66% of whom were from the local community. 

Button and Irani reported that the first-year festival stimulated almost $2 million in total business spending and $135,952 in local taxes. Chow Chow also resulted in national media coverage with a value of $1.3 million, along with 2.8 million social media impressions. The event boosted overnight stays in the area by 1,600 rooms. The not-for-profit festival also raised $53,000 for MANNA FoodBank.

“It was, if you could imagine, such a challenge to get this kind of impact from a festival that had never been done before, and you see the results from that,” Irani said. “Can you imagine what the impact will be next September?”

Button added that planning is underway for Chow Chow’s second year, which has a projected budget of $700,000. The event is tentatively scheduled for Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 10-13, with final dates to be confirmed in November.

Last year, the BCTDA contributed $75,000 to Chow Chow through its event development incubator fund. The event remains the only festival to be supported through that source rather than the agency’s Festival and Cultural Events grant program, which helps fund events such as Downtown After 5 and LEAF Downtown AVL and has a total budget of $85,000 for the current fiscal year. Both funding sources are derived from earned income from paid advertising on Explore Asheville’s website, not the nearly $23 million occupancy tax budget. 

During the meeting, Brown suggested increasing the contribution for Chow Chow to $100,000. She pointed to approximately $150,000 in earned income, carried over from the previous fiscal year but not included in the authority’s current budgeted spending, that could cover its support for the festival. The unanticipated surplus of funds, she said, was the result of a transition to a new accounting system.

“We had some undesignated money that’s been commingled. We’ve been working with [BCTDA financial officer] Don [Warn] to get a better appreciation of the difference between our operation surplus and our undesignated surplus,” Brown said. “We have the capacity right now, outside of the existing approved budget, of $150,000.”

BCTDA board member Andrew Celwyn raised concern over that revelation, claiming that he did not have a thorough understanding of the mistake that led to the surplus. He also said that, while he supported funding the festival, he wanted to investigate where the money came from.

“I’m probably not comfortable voting to spend any of that money until I understand a little bit more where that was coming from and what bookkeeping errors or omissions [there] were that kept us from understanding that we had that money to spend in the first place,” Celwyn said. “My apologies to the folks at Chow Chow, who did an awesome job. I don’t want to hold them up at all, but I feel like, if it’s extra money that we’re allocating, I don’t feel comfortable with that right now.”

Brown pushed back on the assertion that the accounting process lacked transparency and encouraged BCTDA board members to review the latest financial reports for clarification. The board subsequently approved the motion, with Celwyn dissenting.


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12 thoughts on “TDA approves $100,000 for Chow Chow festival

  1. NFB

    $100,000 for a Chow Chow Festival.

    $0.00 to support the infrastructure and services the tourists who attend it.

    • K Smith

      No one in a leadership role in Asheville/Buncombe County gives a big rat’s ass about what the local residents think, want or need and the sheeple bow down and praise them.

        • bsummers

          A ton? That’s not very many people, especially considering the obesity problem in North Carolina. 2000 pounds of brainwashed fool is only 12, maybe 15 people. How much could you even steal from them before someone went to the cops? You’re not being very logical about this.

          • Lulz

            You can joke all you want. The incompetency of local government to hold the TDA to any accountability is pathetic. And the incompetency of the local voter to continue to elect the biggest crooks, cronies, and morons is also pathetic, But they only elect people who reflect their values. And that’s pathetic in and of itself.

          • bsummers

            “they only elect people who reflect their values”

            Democracy is so unfair, isn’t it? If only we could sweep it aside in favor of a system that puts the RIGHT people in charge!

          • Lulz

            LOL right. Because the ones you support have done what? Go on and tells us all the end results since you obviously believe that it’s been in the best interests to everyone.

          • bsummers

            Not at all. I’m just rejecting your perennial attempts to link any problems in this town to the fact that voters here tend to vote Democratic. As if electing all Republicans to local government would magically cure the inordinate influence that the tourism industry has here. It is to laugh. Sorry, IITL

  2. NFB

    “they only elect people who reflect their values”

    As opposed to you who will only vote for people who oppose your values?

  3. Lan Sluder

    Can’t believe the TDA is spending $100,000 of our money to promote an elitist festival that failed to attract more than a few people this year. Chow Chow is a festival that cost hundreds of dollars for locals to attend. It does nothing but hype a few upmarket Asheville restaurateurs who are looking for national recognition and awards.

    • rob

      Technically, this is not ‘your’ money (or local taxpayer dollars). TDA funds come from hotel occupancy taxes that are paid overwhelmingly by tourists. And Asheville is not unique in collecting these taxes – other than the most rural areas, they are charged almost everywhere. And TDA funds must, to a large degree, be used to fund marketing efforts.

  4. foodie

    “It does nothing but hype a few upmarket Asheville restaurateurs who are looking for national recognition and awards”

    I think this is true, but is that so bad? To win a James Beard Award these days you have to be more than a great chef, you have to campaign and market yourself as a superhero celebrity. We should have many food festivals, certainly there is room for one focused on our high end James Beard hopefuls.

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