Wintersun must stay

FOR the second time in six years Wintersun Festival director Barry McNamara has threatened to move the event from Coolangatta.

In the wake of last year's controversial festival, where Griffith Street remained open to traffic and Mr McNamara accused some businesses of profiteering, he has confirmed all options are being explored for the event's future.

Central to Mr McNamara's concern is that the Gold Coast City Council has refused to agree to any long-term funding commitment for the $20 million event, but yesterday, southern Gold Coast Councillor Chris Robbins said she was confident a deal could be reached.

The Tweed Shire Council has agreed to a three-year funding agreement for the event, and while the GCCC has provided $30,000 a year, plus in-kind donations in the past, it has refused to sign a long-term deal.

In a recent Wintersun newsletter sent to 1800 people, the festival called for debate on the future of the event and whether it should move to another location.

Mr McNamara said yesterday the newsletter prompted a number of city councils to make contact, but he would not reveal which ones.

He said a suggestion had also been floated to make Wintersun a roaming festival - moving to a different location each year.

Mr McNamara told the Tweed Daily News the economic crisis was making it more difficult to plan for the event's future, and the growth of Coolangatta and Tweed Heads threw up different challenges each year.

“We have to consider every option open to us as an event,” Mr McNamara said.

It was six years ago, in 2003, that the festival almost moved to Carrara, but the Twin Towns managed to retain the festival.

Mr McNamara said that after 21 years in Coolangatta, Wintersun had shown a genuine commitment to the area and there was only a small chance it would leave.

“We will only relocate if there is no other option,” Mr McNamara said.

Ms Robbins said she had no serious concern about losing the festival, as the GCCC was working to give the organising committee what it wanted.

“The Wintersun Festival is wholly owned by the Wintersun Committee; they have the freedom to look at what is out there and what is available,” Ms Robbins said.

“We are in discussions and trying to do what it is they want and hopefully we can achieve that.”

“The festival is a big economic stimulus for the area and that is what we want.”

Jim Wilson, general manager of GCCC's Connecting Southern Gold Coast said said Wintersun was a great festival and assured local business the council was working hard to keep the event in Coolangatta.

"The Gold Coast City Council, through my company, is doing as much as it can to engage with the Wintersun Committee," Mr Wilson said."

Last Wednesday the Wintersun Committee agreed to talk about a long-term arrangement and we are ready to rock'n'roll with that discussion."

Tweed Tourism general manager Phil Villiers said the Wintersun Festival was too important an event to lose.

“The town needs to get behind it; the town can't afford to lose it,” Mr Villiers said.

According to Mr Villiers, not only was the festival an important winter attraction for the region, it was a great marketing tool for the rest of the year. Many of the 80,000 visitors the festival attracted also stayed on in the region after it finished, he said.

The Tweed Daily News reported in February that high-rises in the Twin Towns were charging holiday season rates for accommodation during the festival and Mr McNamara accused them of taking from the festival and not giving back in terms of donations.

Yesterday he denied any communication breakdown had occurred between business and the organising committee.

“We are here (at the Wintersun office) seven days a week and quite available to talk to people,” Mr McNamara said.

He said the festival was merely looking for a willingness from local businesses to have the festi- val, in terms of accommodation and entertainment.

Both Mr Villiers and Ms Robbins urged local business to support Wintersun.

“I think that local business really needs to get behind, and support it,” Ms Robbins said.

This year's event is a certainty, and Mr McNamara expects to make an announcement for 2010 and beyond on May 18.

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