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Rochester Jazz Fest draws crowds, cash

All these jazz fans have to spend money somewhere - it might as well be in Rochester, N.Y.
via Flickr
All these jazz fans have to spend money somewhere - it might as well be in Rochester, N.Y.


The Rochester International Jazz Festival draws a lot of people from a lot of places – over 160,000, to be precise. (Update: Officials say 182,000 people showed up for the 2011 festival. That's a new attendance record.)

As NPR Music's jazz blog points out, that's an impressive crowd for a city of 210,000.

It's also an impressive economic engine.

Welcome to Rochester

John Ellson has been coming to the jazz festival for each of its 10 years. He's from London.

He's in town to see the music. But when he's not at a show, his priorities in Rochester are clear.

"Number one: play golf."

Along with green fees, Ellson spends money at other places around town. He says a big part of Jazz Fest is meeting up with old friends over dinner and drinks.

Now, multiply Ellson by the tens of thousands of other visitors from near and far. The economic impact quickly adds up.

And the Jazz Fest isn't even the only game in town.

Conferences, conferences, conferences

"The takeaway for me is to make sure we can connect with the high school counseling community."

That's Frank Williams, at a scene altogether different from that of the Jazz Fest. He's the dean of admissions at Daemen College in Amherst, N.Y., and he was at a statewide conference of guidance counselors hosted by the University of Rochester last week.

Williams was in town for professional development. But that didn't mean he and his colleagues couldn't find time to celebrate.

"Because this year we made our class [recruitment goal] again at Daemen College, I took out the entire staff to Dinosaur BBQ yesterday," said Williams. "Going to Dinosaur BBQ and making sure we got the pulled pork and the ribs was a great night. We definitely stimulated the economy."

More than 600 guidance counselors were in town for the event – and that was last week's small conference. At the same time, over 2,000 Methodists were also meeting in Rochester.

The numbers

"A lot of people don't see the economic impact of visitors to this community, but it is substantial," according to Patti Donoghue, a vice president at the local tourism office, Visit Rochester.

Donoghue's organization commissions studies to calculate just how substantial an impact visitors have on the local economy.

The answer: about a billion dollars worth every year.

In the pre-recession days of 2007, visitors pumped $965 million into the Rochester economy. In 2009, that figure dipped by about $100 million. Donoghue says the 2010 numbers will come out soon, and she expects them to surge toward pre-recession levels.

As for the Jazz Fest, well, that's music to her ears.

"It helps our hotels, our restaurants; people renting cars, certainly spending money at the festival," says Donoghue. "It really is a wonderful economic driver for this community."

Donoghue says the steady stream of visitors doesn't stop with the Jazz Fest. In the next month alone, Irish dancers, Community Theater Groups and thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses will all have conferences in Rochester.

WXXI/Finger Lakes reporter for the Innovation Trail.