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Coquitlam is 'penalizing' festival organizers on city funding: ScotFestBC

“I don’t believe in the Games surviving; I believe in them thriving," says Mike Chisholm, the executive director of ScotFestBC, which has its event on June 17 and 18, 2022, in Coquitlam.

The executive director of ScotFestBC warned Coquitlam council — for the second time in six years — that the multicultural event may have to pull up stakes.

On Monday (March 28), Mike Chisholm told council-in-committee that his group is considering leaving Coquitlam if the city doesn’t provide a more stable funding partnership.

Chisholm said the new arrangement his organization qualifies for has a funding formula that holds back money if the recipient makes a profit at their event.

And he said non profits such as Festival du Bois, the Terry Fox Foundation and the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau, which are also part of the new agreement, shouldn’t be “penalized” by the city if they get a return, as ScotFestBC did last September.

ScotFestBC is looking at a $23,000 “loss,” he said.

Chisholm argued that any surpluses held by non profits are used as seed money to ready for the next event and offset the costs of rising materials and labour.

In pre-pandemic times, ScotFestBC generated more than 20,000 visitors to Town Centre Park for its Friday night and all-day Saturday activities. The 90th annual Highland Games have taken place in Coquitlam for the past 40 years; this year, they’re on June 17 and 18.

Still, money wasn’t the only issue for Chisholm, who also addressed the committee on the current land-use constraints on the festival grounds east of Lafarge.

The city is now updating the pathways and landscaping around the lake loop walk and, recently, the Hub concession and washrooms were installed on the north end.

While Chisholm said appreciates the amenities, they eat up space noting that the heavy events (i.e., caber tossing) will be “squeezed” in for small competitions.

As well, Chisholm encouraged the city to lobby TransLink to change the name of the closest SkyTrain station, Lafarge Lake–Douglas, which he claimed is difficult for festival organizers for planning and equally confusing for visitors trying to get to Town Centre Park.

Mayor Richard Stewart said the name wasn’t council’s decision.

Lanny Englund, Coquitlam’s general manager of parks, recreation, culture and facilities, said the city’s events team is working with ScotFestBC on funding and site solutions to ensure the popular festival is safe and accessible, and the non profit is accommodated.

And committee chair Coun. Brent Asmundson added there’s flexibility on the funding front. 

“I’d like to see the Highland Games stay,” he said at the March 28 meeting.

No one from the city was immediately available for comment on the new funding formula.

However, Chisholm told the Tri-City News today (March 29) if ScotFestBC does well financially — as it anticipates for its next Highland Games — “then we’ll be clawed back from the city, so why are we in Coquitlam when other cities like Surrey are keen on festivals coming to their wide open spaces? I have to find the best fit for our Highland Games and guests.”

Chisholm added, “If the city is making designs on space and funding that are impacting negatively on this event then we have to look elsewhere. We want to expand.”

“I don’t believe in the Games surviving; I believe in them thriving."

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