CATF pumps $3.2M into local economy

February 22, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Last summer, more than 11,500 patrons bought tickets to the Contemporary American Theater Festival and 613 of them filled out surveys saying where they spent their money while they were in the area.

They spent a lot. 

According to an analysis of the surveys made public at a press conference last week, $3.2 million was dumped into the local economy in the four weeks over July and August during which the festival ran.

The study showed the patrons spent $2.1 million on lodging, food, other events and activities, transportation and shopping. Added to that was $1.1 million the festival spent on expenses such as stage materials, supplies, and salaries of the actors and 90 full-time employees hired during the month-long festival season, said Peggy McKowen, associate producing director of CATF.

An analysis of the surveys showed a typical out-of-towner spent $78 a day on lodging, food, shopping and transportation, more than a typical area resident, who spent $48.


Erwin Asam, owner of the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, said his rooms fill up during festival month.

"This is really special to us," he said. 

A key question asked of survey respondents was how far from Shepherdstown they lived. About 61 percent said more than 50 miles.

Last summer, patrons came from 22 states and the District of Columbia, said Ed Herendeen, CATF producing director.

The survey also provides demographic profiles of its patrons, including income and education levels, and spending patterns, data that will be useful in targeting future markets, festival officials said.

The 2008 festival showed five new plays for the first time, a number that will continue from now on, Herendeen said.

"This festival is a home for American playwrights," he said. "We do new works and world premieres. Since the first festival in 1990, five of the new plays shown at the festival have made it to Broadway. We're creating the future of American theater."

McKowen said CATF's annual budget runs more than $1 million. Nineteen years ago, the first festival had a budget of $80,000 she said. 

The festival forms a "triad" between Shepherd University and the town, Herendeen said. The school's support includes providing three stages for the 84 performances shown over the month-long festival, plus lodging for its actors. Shepherdstown offers its shops, restaurants, inns and amenities to playgoers. The festival in turn brings money into the business community and energy to the university.

The three entities "feed off each other," Herendeen said.

The high gas prices in the summer of 2008 had little effect on ticket sales.

"Attendance was up from the year before," he said.

This year's worsening economic crisis is more serious than $4-a-gallon-gasoline, organizers said. They are budgeting more cautiously and projecting lower attendance, McKowen said.

"We're planning for fewer sales," she said.

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