FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — A day after Three Rivers Festival (TRF) Operations Director Rick Kinney’s departure became public, WANE 15 has learned two longtime sponsors have cut ties with the group.
However, a Festival spokesperson remained confident that annual fundraising goals would be met.
Ruoff Home Mortgage CEO Mark Music sent WANE 15 a statement to say his company would no longer remain as a title sponsor after first expressing concerns to the board in 2021.
He contended that the non-profit group was too closely held and insensitive to feedback from financial supporters.
“Sadly, we are out this year and as long as TRF is under the control of the current regime, I can’t see any way that Ruoff would support the organization,” he continued.
Similarly, Bill Bean, with NAI Hanning & Bean, said he withdrew his support last year, partially because the board dismissed longtime director Jack Hammer.
“Basically, we were told they are a self-perpetuating board with no oversight,” he said in his message. “Suggestions for members to be added to the board were rejected.”
Bean added that “polarizing and divisive” events were added to the festival that were not family friendly.
“After bankrolling the festival with over $600,000 over five years, it was a hard decision, but I could not in good conscience continue,” Bean said.
According to Propublica, the 401(c)(4) showed annual revenue ranging from a high of $1,028,345 in 2014 to a pandemic low of $184,514 in 2020.
Spokesperson Shelly Barton said sponsors are one of the Festival’s most valuable assets.
“Should a sponsor – or anyone – have any feedback or concerns, any member of the executive team is ready and willing to have a conversation,” she told WANE 15.
“Our Business Development Director has been hard at work in securing sponsors – returning and new,” she continued. “They are confident that they will achieve their goals and are in constant communication with the Board.”
Music left the door open to return someday.
“I would be quick to step in as the title sponsor of a ‘TRF’ event if it were a new organization or the current board tender their resignation.”
Sweetwater Sound confirmed with WANE 15 on Thursday that it would still be sponsoring the marching bands in the TRF parade.
Read the full statements below.
MARK MUSIC: There are some things I love unconditionally. TRF is not one of them. Two other CEO’s and I at the time (spring of 2021) approached the board and identified serious concerns with the board and some of the structural aspects of how the not for profit was too closely held and insensitive to feedback from financial supporters. The other two CEOs tapped out. Even though our contractual obligations were no different than the other two companies, we chose to do the final year of our agreement even though we believed we had all the legal cover we needed to not do so. We let them know how we felt and what was necessary for us to stay on board. We were clear. Sadly, we are out this year and as long as TRF is under the control of the current regime, I can’t see any way that Ruoff would support the organization. The only way I can see a festival in Fort Wayne that is something the community can be proud of is if that organization collapses or if a new organization with all new leadership could be awarded the official status and replace the current TRF. I would be quick to step in as the title sponsor of a “TRF” event if it were a new organization or the current board tender their resignation.
BILL BEAN: I actually withdrew my support last year and have no plans to participate this year. After the board dismissed Hammer without any warning and in my opinion insufficient cause, a group of investors asked to meet with the board to discuss that and other concerns. Basically we were told they are a self perpetuating board with no oversight. Suggestions for members to be added to the board were rejected. Polarizing and decisive events were added to the festival that in my opinion are being used to advance political and social views that are divisive and not family friendly. After bankrolling the festival with over $600,000 over five years it was a hard decision but I could not in good conscience continue.
THREE RIVERS FESTIVAL: The Three Rivers Festival recognizes that our Sponsors are one of our most valuable assets. We would hope that they realize how important their partnerships are to us. Two Board Members met with several Sponsors at the conclusion of last year’s Festival to obtain feedback on what went well and what could have gone better. We utilized that feedback as we commenced planning for this Festival. The Board is excited for the 54th Three Rivers Festival, and despite the challenges we’re facing with the improvements to downtown, we are confident that the Festival will enable our patrons to Create Great Memories as they have in year’s past. We look forward to sharing more information in the near future in conjunction with our Sponsors. Should a Sponsor – or anyone – have any feedback or concerns, any member of the Executive Team is ready and willing to have a conversation. We are always striving to bring NE Indiana the best Festival possible. It’s a team effort – and in addition to the Board, our Sponsors and Volunteers are all part of it and extremely valued and appreciated. Our Business Development Director has been hard at work in securing Sponsors – returning and new. They are confident that they will achieve their goals and are in constant communication with the Board.