D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser plans to attend one day of the upcoming South by Southwest festival in Austin, a spokesman confirmed Tuesday, a decision that comes after officials in her administration cut the budget for the event.
City officials will spend approximately $350,000 to attend five days of the technology and entertainment festival, during which officials will host a series of panels and parties at a restaurant that will be converted into a “We DC” lounge and work space.
Officials at the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership, a nonprofit entity that is orchestrating the city’s visit to the festival, initially planned to spend as much as $475,000.
That number came under scrutiny last month and officials in Bowser’s administration considered cutting as much as $150,000 from the budget as part of a top-to-bottom review of the economic development agenda set by previous Mayor Vincent C. Gray.
Organizers have trimmed costs by converting some panels to fireside chats, allowing them to save on production costs associated with staging, sound and lighting, said Julie Weber, the economic partnership’s director of marketing.
Those conversations will now be conducted in partnership with TechCocktail, a media and events company that relocated from D.C. to Las Vegas two years ago.
Weber said the partnership will also spend less money on favors for attendees and marketing efforts, relying instead on social media and other “guerrilla” tactics to spread the word about D.C.’s various activities in Austin.
“Any time there is an adjustment made to any plan that gives us an opportunity to step up and be creative and figure out what we can do,” Weber said. We’ve been given this opportunity and we’re going to take full advantage of it, and we’re going to make sure D.C. is represented in full regardless [of the budget cuts].”
A start-up showcase featuring 30 local companies will continue as planned, as will a concert featuring bands from the District, Weber said.
Bowser plans to arrive on Friday, March 13th and attend events the following day. She will participate in discussions aimed at bolstering D.C.’s image as a hub for technologists and artists, said spokesman Joaquin McPeek. Bowser will also highlight the various benefits the city offers to residents who work in those fields, he said.
The deputy mayor for planning and economic development, Brian Kenner, is also expected to attend.
“We’re able to lower the cost but still send the No. 1 advocate for the District, so it really is a win-win for the District,” McPeek said of Bowser’s plans to attend.
“When we return from this trip, we’ll certainly do a deeper dive over the coming months to make sure that we’re seeing a return in our investment for this event,” he added.