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Cherry Festival impact is $26.7 million

Crowds watch the Blue Angels perform over West Grand Traverse Bay in the National Cherry Festival Air Show in Traverse City.

2016 Community Report released

TRAVERSE CITY — Everyone knows the National Cherry Festival has a big economic impact on the area.

Thanks to a study the festival commissioned through Grand Valley State University, the effect on the local economy in 2016 has an exact figure: $26.7 million.

The festival’s 2016 Community Report, released on Thursday, states the eight-day event totaled nearly 662,000 visitor days (a measurement of individual visits).

Kat Paye, who was named National Cherry Festival executive director in late October, said total attendance was probably slightly higher in 2016 than it was in 2015.

“I would say it was probably about equivalent,” said Paye, who had served as the festival’s operations director since 2012. “Blue Angels years are usually higher than Thunderbirds years and last year was a Blue Angels year. So I would say it was probably slightly higher.”

Paye said the economic impact on the community, which includes both local and out-of-town visitors to the 90th National Cherry Festival, represents a success. The study found that the average out-of-town visitor spent 3.46 days in Traverse City and spent an average of $86 a day.

“That’s a great figure,” Paye said. “It means that us having a festival puts a lot of out-of-town and local money back into the community.

“That’s money spent during the festival, not necessarily at the festival.”

Two statistics that are directly comparable to 2015 show increases.

The 2016 report states that more than $58,000 was given back to the community through donations and scholarships. That figure marked an increase of about $2,500 from the 2015 report.

“We love it,” Paye said. “I am a huge proponent of the community, giving back and volunteering. We want to continue to improve that. That’s a huge goal of mine and the Cherry Festival.”

An independent SEEDS audit showed 91 percent of waste from the 2016 Cherry Festival was diverted from landfills. That’s an increase of 14 percent from 2015.

“That’s huge,” Paye said. “We were extremely fortunate to have done that.”

Data also shows that 2,980 pounds of waste was composted by a local nonprofit. Paye praised corporate partner American Waste for recycling 67,020 pounds of waste.

Paye said 2016 “was a very successful year” for the Cherry Festival under executive director Trevor Tkach, who recently left to take the position of president and CEO of Traverse City Tourism.

The 2017 Cherry Festival opens on Saturday, July 1, highlighted by an air show featuring the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. The 91st festival concludes on Sunday, July 8, with fireworks over West Grand Traverse Bay.

“We know we do things well, but we know we can always do things better,” Paye said.