New Funds For Detroit Fest

The woman who saved last year’s 26th annual Detroit International Jazz Festival with a $250,000 donation is back this year with an unexpected, bigger surprise – 10 million big ones.

Here’s the kicker. Gretchen Valade – a Carhartt clothing heiress and owner of Mack Avenue Records – wants festival producer Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts to give up control of the event, according to the Detroit Free Press. The center has produced the jazz festival since 1994.

Valade has reportedly pledged $10 million to create a nonprofit foundation dedicated solely to producing the event. This could solve the financial problems faced by the festival, which has been struggling for the past five years.

In February, Ford Motor Company said it would not renew its $250,000 title sponsorship. As festival producers scrambled to find a new sponsor, Mack Avenue stepped up and signed a one-year sponsorship deal with the stipulation that the event remain on Labor Day weekend.

Valade’s current plan calls for a new foundation that would oversee artistic programming, operations, marketing and fund-raising, the Free Press said. A $10 million endowment would mean the fest could begin each year with a $500,000 head start in fund-raising. That’s reportedly double the amount Music Hall has traditionally received from a title sponsor.

Music Hall officials chose not to comment on the situation at press time.

Apparently, Valade and Mack Avenue Records President Tom Robinson had been quietly negotiating an outline for the proposal with members of Music Hall’s executive board.

At press time, it was unclear where the negotiations were heading. Yet, it’s possible the parties could reach an agreement allowing the 1,700-seat Music Hall to retain a role in the festival under the umbrella of a new foundation, the paper said.

Festival director and booker Frank Malfitano has not played a direct role in the negotiations, but he told the Free Press that the idea of a self-sustaining foundation was the best way to ensure the event’s future.

“This is a difficult economy in which to raise $1.5 million to produce a festival worthy of Detroit and comparable to the festival produced this past Labor Day weekend,” Malfitano told the paper.

Between 2000 and 2003, the festival reportedly lost more than $1 million because of flat corporate support, administrative and marketing failures, and competition from the Chrysler Arts, Beats & Eats street fair in Pontiac. In 2004, the jazz fest broke even. With the help of Mack Avenue’s $250K title sponsorship in 2005, the event made a modest profit.