This year’s 24th Annual Santa Barbara French Festival has been canceled, former event director Steve Hoegerman told Noozhawk on Friday.
The event is one of the largest and longest-running French festivals in the world that has drawn about 20,000 people each year. The two-day festival featured a variety of entertainment, including a grand opera, folk dancing, Cajun and classical groups, can-can and Moroccan belly dancers, Tahitian dancing, a poodle parade and cabaret music in the tradition of Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier. Hoegerman organized the festival for 23 years but recently passed the gauntlet to Michelle Rodriguez.
“It’s personally devastating; it doesn’t make me happy,” Hoegerman said. “It’s my legacy. It’s unlike most jobs because it’s an extension of what I love and who I am. I would like to see the festival go on into the future.”
He said the event, scheduled for July 16-17, was canceled because of increasing government fees, less sponsorship and the ailing economy. Susan Jang-Bardick, Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation facilities and special events supervisor, said Hoegerman was in the process of selling the festival but the buyer backed out.
“I was hoping to offer a transition that didn’t quite work out, and now it’s too late to pull it off for this year,” he said. “There are ever-increasing expenses from both the private sector and government fees and more paperwork. The nut gets bigger and bigger, and it isn’t a cheap thing to put on.”
Beginning in 2009, the city charges for-profit organizations 20 percent more than nonprofits, which amounted to a $540 difference compared with the two-day Santa Barbara Greek Festival last year, Jang-Bardick said.
“This was at the time the West Beach Music Festival was occurring and people were asking why for-profit companies were paying the same as nonprofit companies, so we adjusted the fees for that,” she said, adding that the French Festival would have cost $3,485 this year compared with $2,715 two years ago. “There are permit fees not only for the park but for county health, electrical and other permits. With all these combined, sure the cost has gone up; everything has gone up over the years.”
The festival not only provides jobs but brings in tourists who spend money locally, generating $3,000 in revenue last year, according to Hoegerman. The city, not only the community, will be missing out, he said.
“It makes people happy,” Hoegerman said. “A French word describes what I am — an entrepreneur, which makes the cogs of this economy run. This year there will be a whole bunch of people whose incomes will go down because there is no French Festival.
“Last year the city raised my fees during the biggest recession since before the Great Depression because the city is looking for more money, and look how much money they will make this year — zero.”
Hoegerman said that when he broke the news, people were saddened and their “jaws dropped,” but he is hopeful the event will happen next year.
“It’s heartwarming to see how beloved the festival was,” he said. “There is a groundswell of people and support, but it’s too late to do it for this year.”
In 1988, the event held at Oak Park featured one stage that Hoegerman had to work to fill. Now, there are three stages that entertainers have to fight for.
“It’s something different and unique,” he said. “It’s an event that has a diverse and quirky personality.”
The festival brings in different cultures that have been influenced by the French, such as the Ivory Coast and Vietnam.
“My goal of the festival is like a multilayered onion — every time someone would turn around and something different would happen,” he said.
Anthony Rock, project superintendent for Cottage Health System, has worked with Hoegerman and the festival.
“The French Festival adds a lot of character, and it’s one of Santa Barbara’s finest events in that really diverse people show up and it has a long-standing history,” he said. “It’s sad it won’t happen this year.”
Hoegerman said he will continue to run his business taking people on trips through Paris, but the French Festival will always be his baby.
“I love France, and I love my festival,” Hoegerman said. “It’s in a real sense my baby and has matured and is beautiful, and I’m proud but sad of its premature end. Sometimes it’s time to let some things go, but last year’s festival was packed, and despite the money flowing through the economy it’s difficult to put on.”
— Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.