Loss of bleachers draws concern for festivals

The City of Victoria has sold its inventory of bleachers, leaving many local festival organizers scrambling to find alternative seating.

The City of Victoria has sold its inventory of bleachers, leaving many local festival organizers scrambling to find alternative seating and wondering what impact the loss will have.

At the end of 2015 the city’s bleachers were deemed unsafe and were decomissioned. The bleachers have since been sold, however, the city still continues to supply the foldable ‘drive-in’ bleachers (they open hydraulically instead of being physically assembled by city workers), which provide one-third of the seating.

In a letter dated Feb. 22 sent to event organizers notifying them of the change, the city said the bleachers have not been replaced.

The loss will have a significant impact on a number of upcoming local festivals that draw thousands of people to downtown Victoria annually and inject millions into the local economy.

The Victoria International Buskers Festival in July brings in dozens of international entertainers and thousands of people during the 10-day event along the streets of Victoria.

Organizer John Vickers said he was shocked when he received the letter.

The loss of seating means 750 people on three waterfront parking lot areas will either have to sit on the ground or stand during the roughly hour-long performances, resulting in people spending less time watching shows.

“The reason we have half an empty downtown much of the time is because the community isn’t present,” said Vickers, adding the festival attracts many locals as well.

“These events bring the community into our downtown core and the city should be behind these events. They shouldn’t just be calling us up a few months before the festival and saying to us ‘we’re high and dry, go find your own bleachers’.”

He added there isn’t room in the festival budget to purchase new bleachers five months it’s set to kick off.

The 10-day TD Victoria International Jazz Festival at the end of June also relies heavily on the use of bleachers for performances in Centennial Square.

Darryl Mar, festival producer and founder, was “dismayed” after he heard about the loss of bleachers from one of their suppliers late last week.

“We’re left scrambling to see how we can replace the bleachers,” said Mar, adding they’ve been using the bleachers for more than a decade to accommodate roughly 300 of the 20,000 that come through the square.

“If we don’t source any bleachers, the majority of the audience will be standing up for our shows. We do have a lot of attendees that are more senior than a lot of the other festivals.”

However, not all festivals organizers are worried.

Erik Ages, general manager of the Fairway Gorge Paddling Club and the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival, is using the foldable bleacher system from the city, along with an identical system from Langford.

Ages said he’s glad the city is replacing an outdating system to make it more safe for users.

No one from the city was available for comment before the Victoria News went to print.

Organizers hope the city will replace the bleachers.

“My hope is the city will come to some sort of conscious reality where they’re able to recognize that these events and others are important and need to be supported and hopefully they’ll come up with some new bleachers, or at least some sort of temporary situation, which is going to save face,” Vickers said.