While some people might leave Kelowna to get away from Center of Gravity, Sonya Radcliffe couldn’t be more excited about getting through the gates.

And she’s not who you might describe as the typical CoG fan.

“It’s a really fun event and I’m not young by any means,” the 44-year-old health-care worker said. “I don’t go there to get drunk and to do drugs; I don’t do that. I am there to have fun and experience the sports, music and the people and the good energy.”

Radcliffe has been going to City Park for the outdoor music festival and sports extravaganza for the past two years.

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She said she knows some see Center of Gravity is a place for people to get stoned while listening to electronic music, but she’s never experienced or seen anything unwanted.

“No one has ever inappropriately touched me,” Radcliffe said. “I’ve gone to other types of music events where that has happened to me. I don’t see the negative things people are talking about. I’ve never seen someone overdose. I could go downtown and see that. I feel more than safe at the festival.”

Unfortunately for organizers, Radcliffe isn’t typical for more than just her age. While the three-day festival has regularly drawn about 24,000 people (and 30,000 in its heyday), it’s derided as obnoxious by others.

When CoG organizers announced they had to cancel the festival’s leg in Ontario’s Wasaga Beach, the haters … well, the “haters ‘gonna’ hate.”

Radcliffe wishes other people would see the bigger picture that this festival brings in a lot of money for Kelowna.

“At Center of Gravity the event provides all the security, they provide the clean-up. They provide the rental of the washrooms, the setup and teardown. I don’t think people see the positive impact of it.”

CoG’s founder works to make that reality.

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The Organizers

When Kelowna’s Scott Emslie worked throughout Europe, he saw how beachfront communities embraced festivals. He brought the concept to Kelowna as Volleyfest in 2007.

It evolved into the attraction it is today, with volleyball, fitness, basketball, watersports and extreme sports alongside three stages of music.

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“There have been countless lessons learned along the way, but the two keys for us has always been to focus making the best possible experience for the customer and running our operations as professionally and as well controlled as possible,” explained Emslie.

CoG’s website says tickets in the lowest price ranges ($90 for single day; $170 or $190 for the weekend) are sold out. There were still premium passes ($210 for the weekend) available as the gates opened.

Emslie is tight-lipped about plans, but details will be released once he reports to Kelowna city council following the event – an annual tradition since neighbours raised concerns early in the festival’s history.

Many yelled about party-goers carrying on late into the night and ruining private property. Inside the grounds, there were accusations of brute-force security, open drug use and under-age drinking.

Since then, Emslie’s Wet Ape Productions have done what’s required to keep going.

Yes, the City of Kelowna makes life challenging for Emslie.

Staff and councillors refuse to give him a long weekend permit (because there were more problems when the festival was held then), they restrict ages and tell him to mix up his entertainment to draw more mature fans.

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Security cost Emslie about $80,000 in 2014 and he’s generally sold about three-quarters of his tickets since getting kicked off the long weekend.

He’s also doing his best to reassure fans that problems elsewhere will not affect Kelowna.

Organizers had to cancel the CoG event at Wasaga Beach, Ont., this year.

It seems impossible for Emslie to win, but he’s undaunted.

“Currently, we do not have plans to have the festival in a new market next year, but we will likely reassess expansion opportunities,” Emslie said. “Right now, we are focused on making this weekend's festival as awesome as possible.”

City hall insists CoG is an important event despite the checklist.

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The City

Kelowna officials and CoG organizers are in constant communication and it’s paying off in terms of continued improvements, city hall insists.

Mariko Siggers, event development supervisor for the city, said she’s confident the event is meeting its responsibilities.

“It’s a big festival for our community,” she said. “It’s the only sports and music festival we have.”

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She said CoG’s partnership with established concert promoter LiveNation and “robust” security and medical plans were important additions.

However, not everyone is happy with the City of Kelowna offering up local parks to the for-profit sector.

Siggers said that’s why Kelowna has policies in place to ensure parks remain open to the public as much as possible.

She said Kelowna will never close two parks on the same weekend. If Center of Gravity is occupying City Park, Gyro Beach will remain open.

Siggers also said the city won’t close two parks in back-to-back weekends.

Finally, CoG requires lengthy construction — three stages, venues and concessions — and City of Kelowna staffers insist the “building-out” process is as short as possible.

The city, police and CoG also meet annually to discuss how the festival can improve.

“It’s a really good process,” Siggers said.

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The Tourists

If you like numbers, know this: Center of Gravity is a $5-million boost to Kelowna.

Chris Shauf, director of marketing and communication with Tourism Kelowna, said CoG and other festivals bring people to Kelowna and give them a unique experience.

“(Festivals) give them something to do, something to look forward to, and we expect that they will have such a great time that they already start to plan their trip back,” Shauf said.

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City hall estimated in 2014 that one-third of festival goers came from B.C., but outside the Okanagan, and one-quarter were from Alberta; the rest (40 per cent) were local.

“When people come to Kelowna for an event or a festival, obviously that’s one of the reasons that they want to come but they also what to do other things while they’re here as well,” he explained. “So you can expect that the restaurants, the pubs, the lounges, wine tours, golf – all of that kind of stuff – will also be impacted because people are looking to additional things to do when they’re in the area.”

While locals might not be too keen on tourists overtaking the city, Shauf said there still might be room for more summer festivals in the area.

“I don't know what the magic number is, but I do know that travellers do appreciate the opportunity to participate in events and festivals.”

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The Final Word

Sonya Radcliffe understands a festival that shuts down Kelowna’s main beach can be hard for a local to get over, but she insists it’s worth it.

“I understand that it’s three days of loud music, a lot of people, no parking and extra garbage. But, it’s three days. The economic boost is massive in comparison. I feel like regardless of the type of festival it would be – if it was a country music festival – the exact same things would be happening.”

KelownaNow’s Dave Trifunov, Anita Sthankiya, Alex Soloducha and Molly Gibson Kirby contributed to this report.

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