Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

THE FUTURE OF ONE SPARK; Decision on Festival of Entrepreneurs for 2017 Still to Be Made

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

THE FUTURE OF ONE SPARK; Decision on Festival of Entrepreneurs for 2017 Still to Be Made

Article excerpt

Byline: Drew Dixon

Organizers of the annual One Spark festival in downtown Jacksonville now admit there is no guarantee the event will return in 2017 as they assess ways to make it better.

Michael Munz, a member of the One Spark board of directors, acknowledged that October will be a crucial month for the future of One Spark as he prepares to pitch other members of the board for a return of the event that has encompassed more than a dozen blocks downtown each April. Munz said in an interview with the Times-Union this month that he has a "committee of partners" getting ready to approach his fellow board members in hopes of keeping the event alive.

"Until the board officially votes, I can't let you say it's officially on for 2017," Munz said.

"I'm optimistic. But it's an important nuance that I want to make sure you understand that we're working towards it and we'll have an announcement with board verification, if they accept what our plan is," he said.

The uncertainty comes after this year's event, the fourth for One Spark, included only one day of the entrepreneurial festival celebrating local startups - or "creators" - on April 6 that was enveloped in a large street party. Then there was an "Innovation Day" on April 7 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown that focused solely on entrepreneurial issues. Those dates were also on a Wednesday and Thursday as opposed to the event stretching into weekends in earlier years.

One Spark organizers estimated about 70,000 people attended the street party on April 6.

It was a radical change from the first three years, when a combined 700,000 people attended the festival that grew to six days in 2015.

The number of creators was also drastically reduced, going from more than 600 at its peak in 2014 to about 60 this year, who combined with local artists stationed at Hemming Park to form a combined "Spark Walk." It was a takeoff of One Spark and the regular weekly Art Walk cultural happening.

Part of the reason so many changes were made this year was prompted by Peter Rummell's massive financial losses during the festival's first three years. Rummell is a local developer and businessman who was the single largest financial contributor to the event. He's also chairman of the One Spark board and helped get the effort going in hopes of nurturing an entrepreneurial culture in the city.

Rummell paid for most of the One Spark activities since its inaugural year in 2013. One Spark cost more than $6 million from 2013 to 2015. Rummell picked up $3.5 million of the tab for operational costs.

This year's cost to One Spark was reduced substantially. Estimated costs for the two-day event combined for a total of about $200,000, excluding financial assistance and in-kind services provided by outside agencies, organizations and city departments. …

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