After ending last year’s event more than $100,000 in debt, Gainesville’s biggest bar crawl is pushing forward in hopes of getting back on track.
Tickets for Gator Stompin’, the annual Gainesville bar crawl that draws thousands of attendees out to bounce between the participating bars, restaurants and clubs throughout Gainesville, recently went on sale for the April 2015 event despite 2014’s setbacks.
Jason Bowman, the director of Gator Stompin’ and founder of the Gainesville nonprofit Pledge 5 Foundation, planned and budgeted for last year’s event based on rising attendance rates and sales from the two Thrift 5 stores. Instead of the expected 20 percent increase in attendance, the event grew by only two percent.
After the nearly 7,000 attendees cleared out of about 80 participating Gainesville venues and rapper Waka Flocka and Grammy-nominated DJ Wolfgang Gartner finished the Gator Stompin’ concert at Bo Diddley Plaza, Bowman and Pledge 5 found themselves owing close to 30 businesses a combined total between $100,000 and $150,000.
“We overspent last year,” Bowman said. “We’ve had tremendous growth and it was still the biggest Gator Stompin’ in history, it just didn’t grow at the rate we expected it to.”
With debtors and lawsuits closing in on Pledge 5 over the missing funds, Bowman considered his options, ranging from equity crowd funding to shutting down entirely. Ultimately, he decided to carry on Gator Stompin’ with more caution and control.
“I think someone slightly more grounded or slightly more pessimistic probably would’ve shut down the company after the losses with revenue,” Bowman said. “If we didn’t move forward with Gator Stompin’, then it would just be one less revenue source to pay people back the debt.”
Bowman formed a steering committee comprised of management from five of the venues owed some of the largest amounts of money, and the Gator Stompin 2014 payback program was created. Any business still owed money by Pledge 5 can enter the program by signing on for Gator Stompin’ 2015 in advance, thus guaranteeing the event will be held. In return, ticket sales are expected to repay the businesses any money owed, with interest when possible according to Bowman, and an advance payment for Gator Stompin’ 2015.
The five businesses in the steering committee include Tall Paul’s, Vellos Brickstreet Grill, Sweet Mel’s, 101 Management Group, and Lillian’s.
Melinda Crawford, the owner of Sweet Mel’s and one of the five committee members is pleased with how plans have progressed thus far.
“Those of us that are on the committee are all on board and we’re excited about it,” Crawford said. “Things happen, and sometimes there is an oversight here or there, so it’s great that we have many more eyes looking over it.”
Along with the steering committee, Bowman also created a Gator Stompin’ bank account, completely separate from Pledge 5. The committee has access to the account and hired an accounting firm to write and distribute the money.
Bowman said about ten venues have already signed on for the payback program and more than $10,000 has been raised from ticket sales. Venues not wishing to participate in the payback program will still receive the money owed; it just won’t come from the initial ticket sales, according to Bowman.
Bowman wasn’t able to elaborate fully on the status of the lawsuits he was facing, but did say that no judgments have been made and the people who have brought lawsuits against Pledge 5 have been flexible enough to allow for future payment plans.
“Jason is being very open and transparent about everything so far,” Crawford said. “He’s got a great mind and a lot of knowledge on how to get things going.”
With the new committee on board and venues beginning to return, now Pledge 5 and Gator Stompin’ hope sponsors will do the same.
“We did lose a lot of sponsors because businesses have to be weary of their brand, and I understand that,” Bowman said. “As the public sees everything getting righted, I think the sponsors will come back.”
Gainesville Self Storage, a 2014 sponsor of Gator Stompin’, will continue to sponsor the event, according to Carol Freitag, manager of the Gainesville Self Storage located off I-75.
“Jason has been in touch with me and we’ve talked about a few things and I feel comfortable going forward,” Freitag said. “We all go over our budgets every now and then in our personal lives and we learn from our mistakes, so we can only hope that they do the same.”
Bowman is looking to further stabilize Pledge 5’s financial situation by negotiating its way into a bigger space for the Main Street thrift store and establishing a car dealership program that allows people to purchase cars through volunteering.
“Being more cautious and more conservative with our business decisions will come through the committee and we’re trying to be a more robust company by installing new revenue streams,” Bowman said. “If Gator Stompin’ doesn’t pay off our debt, we’ll be able to take care of it.”