Businesses, charities welcome Pops, sort of, maybe
Oak Bluffs selectman on Monday approved, with some reservations, Festival Network's plan for the Martha's Vineyard Festival, which will feature a concert by the Boston Pops.
The board unanimously endorsed the proposal for an Aug. 10 concert in Ocean Park, but with conditions, including further legal advice about whether the plan rises to the level of a public benefit necessary for use of the park and further negotiation of the $1 per ticket the promoters propose to pay for the venue.
Local business owners also expressed various degrees of support and concern over the event, including apprehension over parking spaces, crowding, and the proposed sale of food and alcohol inside the venue.
Private vs. public benefit
The public benefit threshold fell further into question this week when the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, one of the three Island charities included in collaborative fundraising, decided to withdraw from participation.
In a written opinion to the board, town counsel Ron Rappaport said he felt the hospital's participation helped the event pass the legal test of public benefit, because its services are available to anyone on the Island. He offered no opinion on whether the other two charities, Vineyard House, which provides housing for people recovering from substance abuse, and the Martha's Vineyard YMCA, rose to the same level.
The issue became a point of contention between chairman Kerry Scott, and festival producer Rick White.
"We view all the non-profits as equal, and give them equal ability to raise money," said Mr. White. "We're not putting one in front of the other."
"We're talking about rising to the level of public benefit," said Ms. Scott. "It's the hospital that gives you that status. Not everybody will necessarily use the "Y" or the Vineyard House."
This year, festival promoters have offered Island charities a different fund raising process. Promoters plan to consign premium seating tickets to local charities at face value. The charities can sell the tickets at up to twice the face value, and keep the difference for their organizations. They may add value by packaging the ticket with some other premiums such as a raffle or meal. They will also be allowed to return any unsold tickets. The price of the tickets has not yet been determined.
Only three local charities agreed to participate, and one has since withdrawn.
In a conversation with the Times, hospital CEO Tim Walsh explained why the hospital board changed its mind about participating in the fundraising. He said since multiple charities were involved, the board thought it best to leave the fund raising to the other charities. He said that the hospital didn't want to be competing with other non-profits. Last year the hospital was the sole beneficiary of the concert, receiving an outright cash donation.
Mr. White said other organizations will be approached to fill the void, including the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. He said a number of other Island organizations had approached promoters with interest, but decided not to participate.
"It takes a lot of commitment on the part of the organization," said Mr. White. "If you're going to do it successfully you need an organization and an infrastructure that is able to do that."
"I'm completely underwhelmed by the notion that the non-profit partners will have to fill the house," said Ms. Scott. "I would be much happier if there was an outright donation."
The Vineyard House and the YMCA both expressed strong support for the plan, and affirmed this week that they plan to participate in fund raising enthusiastically.
Though the degree of enthusiasm varied widely among several Oak Bluffs business owners who attended the Monday evening selectmen's meeting, most supported the concert.
The plan for local business to participate in food and alcohol sales inside the venue has caused some concern. Promoters said they have committed to a system where patrons can pass in and out of the gates as often as they wish, but will not be allowed to bring food, bottles, coolers, or picnic baskets into the venue.
"In their proposal," said Oak Bluffs Association president Dennis daRosa, "they've shown some flexibility."
Renee Balter said the Oak Bluffs Association had contacted many of its members to inform them of the festival plan and the Monday meeting.
"I have not had anyone say they are opposed to this," said Ms. Balter. "Not every business will benefit from this event. There will be some business that do better than others."
But some businesses clearly have concerns about the concert drawing customers away from the business district, and the shortage of parking for their regular customers.
Michael Santoro, general manager of Seasons Pub on Circuit Avenue, said he supported the event. However, he questioned Festival Network's plan to serve food and alcohol inside the venue, and he said the promoters offer to include Oak Bluffs vendors isn't practical.
"That time of year, I don't have extra staff," said Mr. Santoro. "On top of that, I don't think I'm capable of catering for 8,000 people. Why do you need to have food vendors? You have pizza, a brew pub, and sushi within one block of the park."
Several private citizens also expressed concern about the concert at Monday's meeting.
"No one has an Ocean Park," said Peggy McGrath. "It's worth a great deal more than $1 per ticket. I pay taxes. I don't want to be sold short. I believe this should go forward, but not at a dollar a ticket."
Selectman Greg Coogan, perhaps exasperated after nearly two hours of discussion, drew chuckles with his response to a resident who suggested West Tisbury might be a better place to have the concert.
"It's August. It's going to be busy," said Mr. Coogan. "It's always busy in August. To think this is going to steal business away is shortsighted. Besides, who wants to be in West Tisbury on a Sunday afternoon when they could be in Ocean Park. Come on, get real, you're sitting in a sea breeze."
Following the meeting, Mr. White said he welcomed the questions of those concerned about the impact of the concert, and said the level of apprehension was less than he has seen in other cities where Festival Networks promotes concerts.
"Every community has its set of concerns," said Mr. White. "I've been boycotted, I've been picketed, in major cities. I've met opposition by religious leaders. I've had some tough ones. For the most part, people see the benefit of the festival, and they're looking to maximize those benefits for the community. We're here to listen."