OCEAN SPRINGS -- The Peter Anderson Festival packs a punch, but the total impact is hard to measure.
The two-day event, in its 37th year, is expected to attract 150,000 visitors to the city next weekend. It now ranks nationally among fine arts festivals, and because it's reaching out online, will attract vendors from California, Arizona, Ohio and Montana. There are more than 400 art, craft and food vendors this year and the shoppers come from as far away as Houston and parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau is watching this year to get a better handle on the Peter Anderson effect on Coast tourism.
The CVB is promoting it regionally with digital media and television advertising.
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Afterward, it will look at attendance, occupancy rates in all Coast hotels and the click-through rates on online ads for those days, seeking to sort out how much traffic is from out of town and how much is local.
Then it will compare year-to-year statistics.
"We know for every dollar we spend on advertising, a tourist comes in and spends $13," said Richard Chenoweth, a commissioner with the CVB in Jackson County.
"This is one of the premier festivals -- it gets all the awards," he said. "But the actual impact, I don't think anyone knows."
Renee Areng, CVB director, said, "We'll have a better idea of the impact after this year."
A signature festival
The money raised from vendor fees, sales tax and sales of T-shirts is the big fundraiser for the year for the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Tourism Bureau.
It is a signature festival for the Coast and certainly a signature event for Ocean Springs, home to an arts community that includes the artistic Anderson family. The family lends its name not only to the event but also the city's Walter Anderson Museum of Art.
It comes the month after the eight-day Cruisin' The Coast and before the heaviest holiday shopping days, and helps brighten city businesses' fourth quarter.
The festival footprint along Washington Avenue and Government Street has grown with the number of shoppers.
On the other hand, it costs the city about $14,000 in overtime for police handling traffic and on extra patrols; firefighters and medics on standby; and public works employees handling setup and cleanup. Coordinating it all involves planning between the city and the chamber year-round.
Then there's the argument that some businesses like it and some don't.
People living downtown can't get to their homes and a lot of cars get towed because the city hasn't added much parking over the years, officials point out.
But it is good exposure, in keeping with the city's image, the chamber's Cynthia Sutton said, and it helps with overall economic growth. Businesses have set up shop in Ocean Springs because of the festival, she said, and it helps sustain established businesses through the year.
"It's an addition," she said, "a quality-of-life piece for people who live and work here."
And according to a 2011 study, it has packed a $23 million economic impact.
Impact for the city
Ocean Springs City Clerk Shelly Ferguson said the festival is not a huge boost to the city's sales-tax figures.
But the businesses say they do very well, Ferguson said, even though some tell her they do better during the eight days of Cruisin'.
Sales tax is collected from the vendors, as well as restaurants and retail shops that will open their doors and have sidewalk sales. Food vendors also pay the city's 2 percent food and beverage tax.
Sutton estimates the chamber collects between $50,000 and $60,000 from vendors that weekend.
But that doesn't make November the top month for the city's annual sales tax. What the city has seen for the last several years is actually a dip in November compared with October and December. Last year, October sales tax was about $422,000 and December's was about $453,000. For November is was $400,500.
November was $50,000 less than October in 2012, $9,000 less in 2013 and $22,000 less last year.
However, the city this year (2014-15) exceeded the previous year's collections by $275,000.
And except for one year, the November sales tax for Ocean Springs has grown annually from $360,844 six years ago to $400,540 last year.
More than money
Alderman Matt McDonnell, who also is director of the Coast Coliseum, said Ocean Springs is passionate about the Peter Anderson Festival, but it has its costs.
"When you bring in thousands of people over a weekend, you need adequate police, fire and public works," he said.
Gauging the economic impact, he said, "I think there's a trickle-over into Harrison County. I don't know how large it is. It's not a Cruisin' The Coast, which affects us coastwide.
"The biggest economic impact is in Ocean Spring. But a rising tide lifts all boats. I'd hate to see the day when we didn't have it."