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Barbecue beer garden up for grabs

BY CORIANNE EGAN cegan@paducahsun.com

The most lucrative fundraiser at the Barbecue on the River will be up for grabs this spring amid controversy between the festival's organizers and the Paducah Symphony Orchestra.

Rights to the festival's beer garden, which annually nets about $30,000 in profits for the PSO, will most likely be put up for bid this spring, festival board member Carol Gault said. The symphony has run the beer garden for 17 years.

"It was a business decision," Gault said. "The gross revenue was increasing, and the money we were seeing was decreasing. We just wanted to do what is right for the festival."

The symphony and Barbecue on the River organizers agree yearly to a contract that allows the PSO to run the beer garden. That contract stipulates the PSO pays a flat $1,000 fee each year, and gives the festival back 10 percent of its net proceeds from the weekend. In 2012, the payment was $3,204.12. In 2013, the payment sent to Barbecue on the River was only $559.

The Barbecue on the River board of directors - which consists of four organizers and three barbecuers - sent the PSO a letter on Jan. 20 notifying it of the upcoming change. The four-sentence letter did not explain why, and symphony board members said they had no idea the change was coming or that there was a problem with the festival. They fired off a letter back four days later, and have not heard from the festival board.

"It was completely out of the blue," PSO executive director Daniel Sene said. "It was months after we had sent the check to them, as well. It would have been common courtesy to tell us what the issue is and we could work it out together. This was completely unprofessional."

Sene said the lower payment last year was because an auditor determined the symphony was incurring additional expenses that should have been deducted from the payment to Barbecue on the River.

PSO board president Roger Truitt, past president John Williams Jr. and Sene went to Tuesday's meeting of the Paducah City Commission to ask for help. Mayor Gayle Kaler said she would attempt to set up a meeting of the two groups. 

"(Roger Truitt) said it well himself, if you had an employee for 17 years, you wouldn't just send them a letter that says it's over," Sene said. "You would at least tell them why, explain what was going on. We haven't had any communication besides that letter."

The beer garden is the symphony's largest fundraiser of the year, and one it has been able to rely on since 1997. Without the $30,000 income, Sene said the symphony would have to cut some part of its programming, whether it is educational programs or performance costs.

Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.

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