What does not having Something in the Water Festival mean for the resort city?

Small business owners preparing for Something in the Water
Posted at 4:35 PM, Oct 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-11 08:56:55-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Something in the Water will not return in 2022. In a letter to Virginia Beach's City Manager Patrick Duhaney, Pharrell Williams, the festival's creator and a Virginia Beach native, states that the city has been run by "toxic energy" for far too long.

Pharrell's letter was in response to Duhaney's letter that expressed his disappointment of learning that SITW 2022 may not happen.

Williams is upset over the handling of the shooting death of his cousin Donovon Lynch by a police officer and the handling of the mass shooting at Building 2.

News 3 investigated and took look at the financial impact that canceling the Something in the Water Festival will have on the Resort City.

COVID-19 forced the event to be canceled in 2020 and 2021.

Business owner Michael Mauch has owned businesses in the Oceanfront for over two decades.

Back in 2019 he owned an ice cream shop and fondly remembered the SITW weekend.

“The most fun night the entire time I was open,” said Mauch, “The music was up loud everybody was having a good time, dancing in the ice cream shop.”

Currently, he owns Harvest, a restaurant near 18th and Atlantic Avenue with a new rooftop bar. His wife owns a skate shop nearby.

Big events at the Oceanfront usually means big bucks for the businesses down there.

Many businesses were disappointed when the letters between Williams and the city manager were publicly exchanged.

“There was a level of disappointment on the city side and for his side,” said Mauch.

Kate Pittman is the Executive Director of the Vibe Creative District. “The news in the headlines this week are heartbreaking,” was Pittman.

The Festival generated much more than just great music.

“Back in 2019, the energy was just palpable on the streets and you could just see and feel so much community goodwill and so many efforts were made by Pharrell and his team to really engage citizens at every level,” said Pittman.

The city was filled with beautiful murals, artwork and positivity as thousands descended on the resort city for that weekend in 2019.

The event was popular. According to the city the first 25,000 tickets sold out in 21 minutes and then they added another 10,000 tickets to be sold.

“It really just generated so much good throughout the city, not just from dollars and cents, but also just from the harmony it brought to the city,” said John Zirkle, the President of Virginia Beach Hotel Association and General Manager of the DoubleTree by Hilton at the Oceanfront.

He said the pandemic was devastating for many in the tourism industry. “It's been unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced from recessions to 911 to you name it. The pandemic is just the damage that keeps on giving, unfortunately,” said Zirkle.

He too felt disappointment that Something in the Water wouldn't be happening.

News 3 investigated some of the numbers released from an economic impact study a few months after the festival.

The city said Dr. Vinod Agarwal, a professor of economics at Old Dominion University, and Virginia Beach Economic Analyst Ron Berkebile performed the analysis and presented their findings to the City Council on Tues., Oct. 1. 2019.

“Some of the findings included:

Tickets went on sale March 8. The 25,000 available tickets sold out in 21 minutes. The capacity was increased by an additional 10,000 tickets and those sold out March 27 — one month ahead of the festival.

The average per person expenditure was $294 (not including ticket sales) – $104 on lodging, $67 on food, $65 on entertainment and $57 on “other.”

Despite main stage performances being canceled on the first day of the event due to inclement weather (ticket purchasers were refunded 33% of their ticket price), attendees rated SITW very positively. An immediate, post-festival text poll received more than 1,600 responses. Attendees were asked to rate the festival on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “a waste of money” and 10 being “awesome.” Eighty percent ranked the festival a “10” and close to 95% rated it an “8” or higher.

Nearly all respondents said they were likely to return if the festival is held in 2020 – 87% said they were “extremely likely” and 10% said they were “quite likely.”

The hotel occupancy rate for the event was about 90% or higher throughout the entire city and hovered between 94 and 96% in the Resort Area.

Hotel occupancy was 86% or higher throughout all of Hampton Roads, including Williamsburg, with the average for the region sitting at more than 90%. Hotel revenue in Virginia Beach was $2.2 million and for all of Hampton Roads it was $4.85 million.

The City’s expenditures for SITW totaled approximately $1.1 million. Historically, expenditures for “College Beach Weekend” were about $259,139. So, the net cost for SITW was $851,376. The City received tax revenue of $1.19 million, which means the City made a profit in the first year, which is unusual.

The economic impact of both Virginia Beach-based and visitor ticket holders was $21.76 million, and the resulting tax revenue was $1.19 million. The total economic impact on Hampton Roads was $24.11 million.


The average age of respondents was 28.5 years. The largest age group, at about 41%, was 25 to 34-year-olds.

About 61% of respondents identify as African American, nearly 20% identify as white, almost 9% as Hispanic, just over 4% as Asian and about 6% identify as “other.”

Nearly 66% of respondents were female, and almost 34% were male. Half of a percent identified as “other.”

About 23% of festival goers indicated they are from Virginia Beach, almost 34% said they were coming from other Hampton Roads cities and about 43% were out-of-area residents.”

News 3 recently interviewed Dr. Agarwal recently about the financial loss the city would face if the SITW festival did not return in 2022.

“You have an event that was very well put together, very well organized were 90% of the people said they be back,” said Dr. Agarwal.

He said due to the enormous success the event was expected to grow in the following years.

He thinks in 2022 it would have generated conservativity between 30 and 35 million dollars

Dr. Agarwal said, “Besides the financial loss that the area would have we’re also losing the visibility it gets by hosting events like Something in the Water.”

He said not having the festival with not devastate the Hampton Roads economy, but the area misses a large opportunity for nation exposure.

Williams appeared on national media and the event was seen around the country back in 2019. He generated a lot of good public relations for the city of Virginia Beach.

“By not having this event, it would be a big loss to the city and a big loss to Hampton Roads,” said Dr. Agarwal.

“You know if the festival doesn't come back, we're a resilient city and will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and will do something else,” said Zirkle.

“Hope the efforts Pharrell started can be continued in Virginia Beach in some form of fashion,” said Pittman.

But many are hopeful for an agreement.

“I think there is a solution to anything if both sides are willing, then there’s definitely a solution,” said Mauch.

Related: Families of mass shooting victims react to Pharrell's letter calling out City of Virginia Beach for 'toxic energy' around 2019 killings