So while other public events are struggling financially and the state legislature is cutting funding to libraries, parks, and health centers, what kind of turnout did taxpayers get for their money?
Well, it wasn't Woodstock.
In fact, there is ample evidence that the crowd at times would have barely filled Verizon Hall's 2,900 seats. And that raises questions about past attendance totals used by the festival to justify taxpayer support. Organizers, for instance, declared in a grant application that almost 600,000 people - the population of Boston - had turned out last year.
This year, aerial and ground photos taken Saturday, June 19, and visits by Inquirer staffers Saturday and Sunday suggest crowds of not much more than a couple of thousand at times.
Festival videos posted on YouTube show a similar turnout during a portion of Friday's festivities.
Organizers admit they drew fewer fans than anticipated. They blamed the heat, the economy, and a weaker lineup of acts. There was still, they insist, a significant turnout. They declined to offer their own crowd estimate.
To be fair, The Inquirer did not attend the festival Friday or at all hours Saturday and Sunday. And organizers never claimed that all half a million festivalgoers would be there at one time. They also said the crowds had grown each evening for headliners such as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Esperanza Spalding, and Al Jarreau, but again would offer no size estimates.
"I don't want to get into a debate about the numbers," Evans said. "I will say this is an economic-development event. It is about jobs. It does a lot for business. It does a lot for tourism."
Jack Kitchen, president of the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp., which sponsors the festival, also declined to offer an opinion on the attendance.
"It takes 30 to 40 days to come up with those numbers," he said. "I'm waiting for all our photographs to come in to do an analysis."
Like Evans, Kitchen said crowd size is a poor measure of the event's value.
"The success of the festival is not based on how many people show up," Kitchen said. "The West Oak Lane neighborhood and Philadelphia were still showcased to tens of millions of households through a media blitz. That is a positive play for Philadelphia."
Nonetheless, the bulk of the festival budget seemed designed for the predicted crowd. Of the $1,045,000, only $85,000 was listed for advertising. The rest of the money was to go to festival operations and logistics.
In terms of funding, the jazz festival is rather singular in that it is completely bankrolled by the State of Pennsylvania, thanks particularly to Evans.
Standing in stark comparison is Welcome America, the nonprofit group that presents Philadelphia's Fourth of July celebration. It received no direct state support this year. In previous years, it received between $500,000 and $1 million from the legislature. That funding was cut as an austerity measure.
Other festivals and parades in Philadelphia, including the Mummers Parade, have struggled recently because of the Nutter administration's insistence that they reimburse police costs.
That is something the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival does not have to sweat. Built into its $1 million state grant was $170,000 to cover police costs. The same figure is included in an $821,000 state grant that has been approved for next year's festival.
That kind of funding would be welcomed by any nonprofit organization.
"What I could do with a million dollars" was the reaction of Jane Lipton, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corp., a nonprofit that organizes the annual Manayunk Arts Festival and promotes Manayunk year round. Her organization's budget, according to its 2008 tax return, was $1 million for the year, with no money coming from the government.
Over the last seven years, the jazz festival's budget and state funding have grown exponentially, as has the festival's attendance claims.
In 2004, it received $85,000 from the state. Turnout was estimated in the thousands. By 2006 and 2007, the state was providing more than $360,000 each year and the festival was claiming turnout in the hundreds of thousands.
In its grant application this year, the festival said it had drawn two million visitors in six years.
Attendance peaked last year at almost 600,000, Kitchen said.
While The Inquirer did not cover the 2009 festival, a report in the Leader, a community newspaper in West Oak Lane, estimated the crowd at 10,000.
"That is wrong," Kitchen said, standing by his own estimation.
"I will say this: We had too many people last year. It was too damn big."
Kitchen described an event that had become a security nightmare with police having to contend with flash mobs of unruly youths threatening to disrupt the festival.
As a result, organizers decided to create a smaller event by, in part, booking more jazz performers and fewer R&B acts, he said.
Those concerns are not spelled out in the grant application seeking state money this year. Rather, organizers touted the festival as an economic engine for West Oak Lane and Philadelphia.
The only hint of something darker was a $210,000 line item for security.
"When you have a festival where you are spending more for security than artists, there is something out of balance," Kitchen said.
Concerns about security as well as turnout will top the list of things organizers will discuss in the coming weeks as they begin to consider what next year's festival will be like, Kitchen said.
"I'm still very concerned about creating a safe environment," he said. "One thing we are batting about is whether the festival should end before dark. I just don't know where it is going next year."
How Many People Are
It would be more than seven sold-out
Eagles games at Lincoln Financial Field (capacity 67,594).
It would be just about 25 sold-out
76ers games at the Wachovia Center (basketball capacity: 20,444).
It's more people than live in
Kansas City, Mo. (482,000), and Miami (433,000),
and slightly less than five times the population of Allentown (107,000).
It is nearly twice the number of Philadelphians
who voted in the 2007 mayoral election (269,613).
Finally, it is five times the estimated crowd
at this year's Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival
in Manchester, Tenn., which included such headliners as
the Dave Matthews Band, Stevie Wonder, and Jay-Z.
Contact staff writer Christopher K. Hepp at 215-854-2208 or email@example.com.