Share story

Saddled by mounting debt, the company that produces Seattle’s venerable Bumbershoot Festival is now seeking a long-term financial solution with the city of Seattle to salvage the festival for next year and beyond.

One Reel, the nonprofit production company that annually stages the end-of-summer music and arts festival at Seattle Center, owes the city about $900,000 — an amount that includes more than $700,000 for leasing and staffing the city-owned campus during festivals in 2012 and 2014.

On top of that, the nonprofit is past due on paying four dozen theatrical stage employees an undisclosed sum for work performed during this year’s festival over Labor Day weekend, a local labor union contends.

With debts lingering, city officials are now actively “working with One Reel to investigate options” for Bumbershoot’s future, said Jeff Reading, spokesman for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

“Everybody believes in the value the festival brings to Seattle,” Reading said in an email Wednesday. “Right now we’re reviewing possibilities for 2015 and beyond for preserving Bumbershoot and ensuring its long-term financial sustainability.”

Reading declined to provide more details about the options now on the table, including whether any of them involve forgiving debt or devoting city finances to Bumbershoot to subsidize the festival.

In an emailed statement late Wednesday, One Reel Executive Director Jon Stone acknowledged the festival’s ongoing fiscal problems.

“Bumbershoot experienced a financial setback this year, which unfortunately is not unusual in any major festival production,” Stone’s email said. “Advancement of the festival and meeting our obligations are our top priorities.”

Stone’s email added the nonprofit has been “actively and diligently pursuing multiple options” to resolve the problems but declined further details. More information is expected “in the coming weeks,” he said.

One Reel’s financial troubles have been well publicized in recent years. Citing fundraising shortfalls, the nonprofit abruptly withdrew from the Fourth of July fireworks show at Lake Union in 2013, after producing the event since 1988. In the mid-2000s, One Reel also moved — then eventually canceled — its popular Summer Nights on the Pier concert series, after troubles emerged in securing a safe, long-term venue for that event.

A beneficial financial arrangement with One Reel’s sister nonprofit Teatro ZinZanni, the cabaret and performing arts troupe, ended several years ago.

One Reel’s annual tax-exempt financial filings with the Internal Revenue Service show it has experienced a declining trend line for years. Reported “public support” — the nonprofit’s financial lifeline of revenue that includes grants, donations and gross receipts from its events — dropped from about $6.9 million in 2008 to $4.9 million in 2012, its most recent filing shows. One Reel also reported closing its books on 2012 with a negative fund balance of $1.35 million.

In recent years, One Reel’s money woes have plagued Bumbershoot, Seattle’s mainstay Labor Day weekend festival that its producers tout as the nation’s largest urban arts festival.

One Reel took a major financial hit on the music and arts festival in 2009, after heavy rains doused expected attendance to lower-than-usual levels. The financial problems have festered since, with One Reel eventually agreeing to an installment plan with Seattle Center to pay nearly $600,000 in debt owed following the 2012 festival.

One Reel managed to pay down some of that debt — and pay off its bill for the 2013 festival entirely. But today, it still owes Seattle Center a total of more than $700,000 for costs incurred by Bumbershoot celebrations in 2012 and 2014. The nonprofit also owes the city roughly $200,000 for past police and other services provided for Bumbershoot, Reading said.

Aside from its city debts, One Reel owes an undisclosed sum to 48 theatrical stage workers for about 10 days of labor required to erect, staff and dismantle two temporary concert stages at Memorial Stadium during the 2014 festival, according to International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 15.

Mylor Treneer, business agent for the local, called One Reel’s unfulfilled payments “a significant delinquency” that has never occurred in his union’s 40-year relationship with the arts nonprofit.

“We have been prepared from the date of delinquency to take legal action,” Treneer said Wednesday. “If that’s necessary, we will. But we are also in support of One Reel finding a solution. We’d like to see it stay solvent, get itself clear of its obligations from 2014 and get on better footing for 2015.”

One Reel’s representatives previously have said the debts incurred during this year’s Bumbershoot largely stemmed from an eleventh-hour scheduling conflict over KeyArena.

Normally, KeyArena’s anchor tenant, the Seattle Storm, would have first dibs on that venue. But One Reel negotiated a special contract with Seattle Center to lease the arena for its festival, Stone has said.

But after the WNBA moved its playoffs to the same weekend, the Storm’s contract for KeyArena took precedence. That forced One Reel to move its mainstage events to Memorial Stadium — a change of venue that required One Reel to shoulder unbudgeted leasing, staffing and labor expenses.

Stone also has complained that dwindling available space on the Seattle Center grounds has impacted One Reel’s ability to draw sponsors.

Seattle Center Director Robert Nellams did not respond to interview requests Wednesday.

A few weeks after the 2014 festival, One Reel announced it was laying off five seasonal and three full-time staff members. A spokeswoman for the nonprofit cited low attendance when announcing the layoffs.

Dreary weather and a $46 hike in the cost of Bumbershoot’s three-day pass also may have factored into this year’s lower-than-expected turnout and gate revenues, some observers have said.

This story contains information from The Seattle Times’ news archives. Lewis Kamb: or 206-464-2932. Twitter @lewiskamb