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Light City 2017 adds $44.3 million to local economy, study says; changes planned for 2018

A time lapse preview of Light City Baltimore 2017

The Light City Baltimore festival contributed $44.3 million to the local economy in its second year — an increase of about $10.5 million from 2016, according to Forward Analytics, a Pennsylvania-based marketing research firm.

Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, the local arts council that produced the festival, released the firm's study Tuesday, which also found that attendance increased from 400,000 in 2016 to 470,000 this spring.

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Of this year's visitors, 157,450 were from out of state and each spent an estimated $80 while at the festival, which centered around a 1.5-mile lighted art walk in the Inner Harbor.

"Between 2016 and 2017, when you look at the numbers or the results of the survey … we moved the needles incrementally in just about every way possible," said BOPA CEO Bill Gilmore. "We also increased attendance and media impressions. We maintained and exceeded people's expectations."

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In total, out-of-town Light City attendees this year generated around $26.06 million in direct spending — which includes spending at restaurants, hotels, entertainment and retail venues, and on transportation — the study found. This generated over $1.55 million in state and city tax revenue, according to the study.

BOPA said that the 2017 festival cost around $3.7 million to produce and operate. While final revenue numbers aren't yet in, Gilmore estimated a shortfall of $50,000 — an improvement from $400,000 in the festival's inaugural year.

"Looking toward the future, we want to sustain that growth, but we also want to maintain the artistic integrity of the festival," he said, ensuring that the light art, performances and music are at "the top of the charts."

The city and the couple who co-founded the Light City festival agreed to settle a legal dispute over the festival’s trademark.

Gilmore said the organization is already gearing up for next year's festival, which will run from April 14 to April 21 — cutting the festival back from nine days to eight.

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Neighborhood Lights, which features installations in neighborhoods surrounding the Inner Harbor, will no longer coincide with the festival. Instead, it will be held the weekend before as a kickoff event, from April 6 to April 8, with select works on view throughout the main festival.

Gilmore said this change will allow the artists and neighborhoods featured in Neighborhood Lights 2018 to have "their own opportunity to shine — pun intended."

"It would just give them their own space and so they're not competing with what's happening downtown and in the Inner Harbor," he said.

BOPA has also released a call for entries and proposals from artists and neighborhood partners, with deadlines in July.

"We're anxious to give the artistic community around the world a chance to think of a proposal and to think of something for 2018," Gilmore said.

For more information, visit lightcity.org.

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