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Council approves funding for 2019 UFO Festival

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Kathy Lay, executive director of MainStreet Roswell, shares data on the 2018 UFO Festival. From left, Juanita Jennings, the city’s public affairs director, and Juliana Halvorson stand nearby in case city officials have any other questions. (Alison Penn Photo)

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The Roswell City Council has approved $21,100 in lodgers’ tax funding for the 2019 UFO Festival.

Last Thursday, all 10 of the city councilors were present and unanimously voted in favor of providing funding for the annual UFO Festival. Councilor Caleb Grant recommended approval of lodgers’ tax funding of $21,100 on a full reimbursement basis, and his motion was seconded by Councilor Jacob Roebuck.

According to the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor, lodgers’ tax can be imposed by local governments on people staying at commercial lodging accommodations and the revenue garnered is used to promote and advertise tourist-related events and facilities.

Kathy Lay, director of MainStreet Roswell, and Juliana Halvorson, representative of the UFO Festival Committee, presented the impact of the 2018 UFO Festival to councilors. Halvorson said the UFO festival brought in a huge increase in lodgers’ tax this year and said she saw this influx reported at a finance committee meeting on Oct. 4. According to the August 2018 lodgers’ tax report, $123,771 was collected in the month of July, when the festival is held.

More than 25 local organizations, groups and businesses assisted with this year’s festival and Lay said the tracked volunteer hours were worth $91,257. Some of the councilors thanked Lay, Halvorson and the UFO committee for their hard work, saying they appreciated improvements over the years.

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Juanita Jennings, public affairs director, said in fiscal year 2018 the UFO Festival received $21,000 in lodgers’ tax and the reimbursement was due last Thursday, and was received. This year’s UFO Festival had an estimate of 20,000 to 25,000 attendees — 19,000 of those from outside Chaves County, according to Jennings.

For background information, Lay said the city started the festival, asked the International UFO Museum & Research Center to do it, the UFO Museum felt it was overwhelming and returned it back to the city. When it was in the city’s hands, Lay said all of the work happened with paid labor and city equipment, which cost the city a fortune to run the festival. She said the city approached MainStreet Roswell, asking them to organize the festival with volunteers, partnerships and donations with the understanding it would be a partnership between the two entities.

“It has been a partnered event for years and we are incredibly grateful because it has become dear — it is dear to our heart,” Lay said. “It fulfills our mission which is to bring people to our downtown district. That’s what MainStreet Roswell is, for is to keep our downtown thriving and economically vibrant and this is a huge impact for our downtown … So, we’re really grateful to the city for allowing us to participate and to take on organizing this event on behalf of the city.”

Lay said organizers have had tremendous responses from tracking surveys and calling hotels. According to a document from MainStreet Roswell, there were 1,160 completed surveys representing 2,752 people. Lay also said all motels, hotels and bed and breakfasts were at 97 percent booked during the festival. She said this year’s festival had an “incredible amount of impact economically” to Roswell.

From the surveys, Lay said 59 percent of the 1,160 sample indicated they stayed overnight, and some stayed multiple nights. Lay also said 43 of 50 states were represented and seven different countries were reflected in the surveys. Councilor Jeanine Corn Best said she wanted to emphasize that more people stayed longer, which improves lodgers’ tax, and also said having the museums and the Robert H. Goddard planetarium open was a huge draw for visitors.

Lay said local business owners have told her that they had the best sales during that week, and some of them beat all-time records of any month they have been open. In terms of vendors, Lay said one booth sold “a literal ton of meat” and one vendor quadrupled sales since last year.

Lay said the UFO Festival also had a large media impact with 75 online publications and TV stories, including CNN, and Express UK. She added people all over the world are reading about Roswell and the media stories are “promotional and phenomenal branding for the city.” Lay said she did four hours and 45 minutes of interviews, a $2,280 value for free.

Halvorson said the media coverage last year increased tourism. Halvorson said the UFO committee has been frugal in spending considerably less than the full awarded amounts, but would like to have more reach with advertising, explaining the request for lodgers’ tax.

Councilor Savino Sanchez asked about a negative report on Roswell and wasn’t sure if it was about the festival or the museum. Halvorson and Lay said they did not know of which report Sanchez was referring to, and Halvorson said all reviews have been “outstanding” — and there will always be one person who is unhappy.

Lay said the UFO museum has received some comments about visitors expecting more interactive exhibits and artifacts — rather than reading and documentation. Lay said the UFO museum is working on bringing in additional hands-on interactive exhibits to improve public relations. When it comes to other feedback, Lay said the parade had fewer entries and received some comments from visitors; Lay said MainStreet and community members are planning to help increase float entries for next year.

“I would like to add that we grow every year and people from Roswell are getting more involved every year and they’re amazing,” Halvorson said. “And we’ve gotten support from the city and Juanita (Jennings) — this has been outstanding, that we’ve haven’t seen in the past. So, it’s getting better every year.”

“For any event in today’s world, we have not taught our children or our young adults to volunteer,” Best said. “It’s us older folks that keep volunteering our time and we need you guys to understand volunteering is how we keep our city going. We volunteer. We give free of our time and our will — that way it moves on to the lodgers’ tax and further on down to the museum, so forth and so on.”

Halvorson said the UFO Festival Committee starts asking for volunteers several months ahead of time. Best said with city and MainStreet partnership, and volunteers, it will allow the city to “have it made” when it comes to putting on the UFO Festival.

Councilor Barry Foster said the UFO Incident “brings people in 365 days a year,” though he appreciated the data for those staying in Roswell during the three days of the festival.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.