At the end of last week, the future for one of Victoria’s more beloved music events – St. Kilda Festival – was looking grim, as we reported that following budget blow outs from local council, the City Of Port Phillip, as they enter pre-election mode; news has come to light that the council actually knocked back half-a-million dollars in sponsorship that would have ensured the music event’s 2013 iteration.

City of Port Philip reportedly rejected a $500,000 sponsorship deal for the event from Jeep – a division of the Chrysler motor company – because it was seen to be at odds with organisers’ stern sustainable transport policy.

Now however, the Melbourne Weekly Port Phillip reports that the council has re-opened negotiations with the car manufacturers in order to help fund the financial future of St. Kilda Festival.

Originally turning down Jeep’s sponsorship deal, because the “arrangement that was put to us was not consistent with our values” said Councillor Janet Bolitho, the refusal of the deal contributed to a black hole in the budget that led to Deputy Mayor Frank O’Connor calling for an urgent review of the music festival after hearing that the bill for the 2013 iteration of the festival would be budgeted at $1.2 million.

While the City of Port Phillip is allocating $730,688 towards the February festival’s budget, with current sponsors contributing a mere $144,000 to the cost of staging the event; it leaves a gulf of around $350,000. A gap that the Jeep sponsorship would certainly help fill.

Sam Talbart, Chrysler Australia’s general marketing manager said that City of Port Phillip council contacted him about reopening negotiations following the same council meeting where Cr O’Connor and his council called for the urgent review, including the option of scrapping the Festival Sunday, which attracted a record attendance of 420,000 in 2011, to save on costs.

Though the council rejected Jeep’s original sponsorship proposal – including events, signage and promotion across the municipality – with Cr Bolitho’s comments that the council “are entirely, utterly and wholly committed to a sustainable transport agenda and Jeep does not fit in there.”

Despite that, there seemed to be some hypocrisy in reports that the council had previously accepted a major sponsorship from Renault for the St Kilda Film Festival last April.

In response, Mayor Rachel Powning maintained that the reason the council had rejected Jeep’s offer to secure finances for St Kilda Festival, were to do with its business proposal rather than it sustainability ethics. “Our response was ‘no’, not because it’s a vehicle manufacturer but because it was essentially an offer to buy the municipality and the City of Port Phillip is not for sale,” said Powning.

Fitzroy St Business Association President Roger Wyndham has already criticised the council for rejecting major sponsors, and their crucial financial contributions, saying that if Port Phillip council had been more open-minded about potential sponsors for the event, it wouldn’t have led to the blow-out in the budget; saying: ”Don’t get me started on wasted time and money.”

Meanwhile, Cr Serge Thomann said that he’d enquired council staff for more information about the Jeep deal in July, including details of sponsorship, but received no information.

“I totally support the [council’s] sustainable transport policy, but in this case we should consider the sponsorship policy first,” he said. “The council has a clear policy on sponsorship and it defines the brands prohibited, such as tobacco, alcohol, gaming and pornography. It does not prohibit cars. We should stick to this policy.”

The renegotiations for a sponsorship deal would certainly help the financial gulf in funding for the St Kilda Festival and help ensure its 2013 iteration, just in the nick of time too, as councillors will vote on the festival’s fate tomorrow –  just one day before the council enters election caretaker mode.

Any concerns about the budget going into the red for an incoming council has potentially made St Kilda Festival’s financial concerns an electoral hot potato – attempting to deal with its costs before a new council is elected.

If St Kilda Festival were to be cancelled due to budgetary constraints, it would be an enormous step back for Port Phillip City Council after a few, small encouraging steps forward in regards to their dealings with live music.

Pulling the plug on their biggest and most successful live music event may leave some money in the budget, but it would leave an even bigger black hole in the city’s music calendar and cultural currency.

It’s not the first time that Port Philip council has butted heads with live music however. It certainly seemed that local council had experienced a change of heart following the encouraging news that the City of Port Philip’s Mayor ordered for greater communication between live music venues and the community to help develop local music culture.

Additionally, it helped balance out the issues over St Kilda venue-come-record store Pure Pop Records, who previously seemed to the target of a witch hunt by residents and local council, with Fun Police tacts designed to close the venue over noise complaints. As well as the upward turn for the Prince’s new bandroom, the Public Bar re-opening.

In related news, the DIY bomber that tragically marred last year’s St Kilda Festival, was recently jailed for at least 15 months with no parole.

23-year-old apprentice baker, Sam Aniello Castellano pleaded guilty to eight charges of eighteen last April – and was recently sentenced after he set off two DIY devices, injuring five people – two seriously – at St. Kilda Festival in February, 2011.

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