Pemberton Festival hits another roadblock

ALC denies Village, SLRD request to amend MOU on event site

The Village of Pemberton and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) will have to go back to the drawing board if they use a new promoter to produce an event on the Pemberton Festival grounds.

Officials from the Village and SLRD met with the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) panel in March, hoping to amend the memorandum of understanding between the three parties regarding the festival site. The Village and SLRD requested that the MOU remove Live Nation, producer of the 2008 Pemberton Festival, as the only acceptable promoter operating at the site, which sits within the Agricultural Land Reserve.

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The request would have allowed for the Village and regional district to jointly select any promoter they saw fit to put on an event.

However, the ALC chose to deny that request. The panel's May 16 decision, a copy of which was obtained by The Question, states that the ALC "has no confidence that the interests of agriculture will be served by now allowing one or more promoters to use these good agricultural lands."

The decision also states that "The Commission views the reconsideration requests collectively as a new proposal," meaning that a brand new agreement would have to be drawn up between the two local governments and the ALC if a new promoter is brought in.

"It's very unfortunate because it minimizes our ability to negotiate with various proponents," said Mayor Jordan Sturdy. "That said, we are continuing to work with Live Nation to host an event here in Pemberton. Those discussions are ongoing."

The MOU includes several stipulations that the Village, SLRD and Live Nation work to ensure the agricultural quality of the festival grounds is not diminished. The recent ALC decision states that, at the time the MOU was drafted, the commission felt that "Live Nation Inc. (had) the resources to meet the Commission's expectations in terms of rehabilitation of the land as well as delivering tangible benefits to agriculture."

Live Nation has now issued the same statement to The Question multiple times over the past year, most recently on Monday (June 11), saying that the company wishes to return to the Spud Valley but is working on ways to make the festival "financially feasible".

The 2008 festival lineup - which featured both chart-topping artists like Jay-Z, Coldplay and Tom Petty and indie rock darlings such as Vampire Weekend, My Morning Jacket and Interpol - drew approximately 40,000 people, but the event hasn't returned since. If the festival were to come back in that form, it would be rivaled in the Pacific Northwest only by Washington's Sasquatch Music Festival in terms of size and profile.

Sturdy has maintained throughout the process of requesting the MOU amendment that the Village would prefer to see Live Nation return rather than use a different promoter. However, he also said that other potential promoters have come forward and expressed interest in producing a new festival on the grounds.

"There is the interest out there, certainly," he said. "And there's definitely skepticism out there in the community that (Live Nation) is ever going to return to produce another festival here."

But the ALC decision puts local officials back at square one should they use someone other than Live Nation.

"We very much wanted to see an event here in Pemberton and (when) Live Nation didn't return in 2009, 2010 and now 2011 we felt an alteration to the MOU was our best (way) to ensure that we had options," said Sturdy. "I still feel that it would have been in the best interests of the community.

"This is really why we tried to have the MOU altered - to favour the community as opposed to favouring a proponent, especially one that's not party to the MOU. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

Sturdy said he doesn't believe the Village and SLRD have any avenue to appeal the ALC's decision. Since the Village only received the decision late last month, council has not yet decided what steps it intends to take next.

It is believed that Live Nation is now working on its Pemberton Festival file from its Vancouver office rather than its London, England office, as the ALC decision was forwarded to the company's B.C. address. Live Nation officials did not respond to inquiries about why the file was relocated.

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