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Conflict arises between Smelt Festival organizers

by jmaloni
Mon, Mar 9th 2015 12:30 pm

By Joshua Maloni

What is traditionally a simple request turned into an investigation Monday at the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees meeting.

The Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce, as it's done in past years, requested a facility contract to hold the Smelt Festival on North Water Street - in front of The Silo Restaurant.

President Jennifer Pauly was asked to explain the event's structure and source of funding.

Earlier in the day, the Smelt Festival had been the subject of a discussion between Pauly and Stacey Sheehan, business consultant for The Silo. The waterfront eatery's owner, Alan Hastings, finances the event and said he was not pleased with the chamber's level of cooperation.

Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland (filling in for a vacationing Mayor Terry Collesano) was aware of the conversation. During the board meeting, he had several questions for Pauly as he sought to ensure the Smelt Festival would go off as usual the first Friday in May.

Pauly told trustees the festival is "a collaboration between the chamber, the Niagara River Anglers and The Silo. It's not one person's or one entity's event. It's the community's event. We just help facilitate the two organizations to all work together to do it."

 "Where does the funding for it come from?" Sutherland asked Pauly.

"Not from the chamber," she said. "We do provide ancillary services. We don't fund anything. The funding comes from CWM ($1,000). They help support purchasing some of the smelt. And then, Alan, of course, pays for the (vendor) permit, since he has exclusive rights to food and beverage. He pays for the music. The tent is covered, as well. But he also retains the revenue from that, as well. And so do the River Anglers. They retain any donation revenue that they take in, or any raffle revenue. The chamber does not retain any revenue."

Sutherland asked, "Have you discussed this with The Silo and got the approval from them?"

"I have spoken with Stacey Sheehan, who is The Silo's spokeswoman - business development person - and this has been an arrangement that we worked with Alan and the anglers for years. For some reason, this past year was a really bad weather year, and attendance wasn't as big as it was in previous years. And Alan expressed disappointment. However, we seemed to cover everything today, and things are going forward as planned. As normal.

"Perhaps in the future there'll be a different model for how the event is run? But this is how it's been run for the past at least eight years."

Sutherland said, "I know that happens to be (The Silo's) opening weekend down there, and I'm sure that, with the Smelt Festival and everything else, they probably don't bring very much revenue into the restaurant."

"No, but they also do receive publicity," Pauly said. "This event garners a lot of publicity that the chamber goes out and seeks. There's newscasts there every single year. It's also covered by all of the newspapers. There's photographs. And we make sure that all of those involved are interviewed and photographed."

Sutherland said, "I noticed in one of your (press) releases ... I was surprised in that you said it was the chamber, the Niagara River Anglers Association and a local restaurant. You didn't name (The Silo), and they pay for most of it, I understand."

"Well, they do, but they also retain the revenue from it," Pauly said. "The Silo is the one who has exclusive rights to the beer sales; exclusive rights to the food sales. So, of course, they do pay for their staff, and they pay for their band, and they pay for the permits, but they're also retaining revenue for that.

"And also the local restaurants are involved. A lot of them do sell smelt the day of."

Sutherland asked, "So, you have worked it out with The Silo, and they have approved it and all that?"

"I have spoken to Stacey Sheehan, and she's their business development person, and she's speaking on behalf of Alan," Pauly said.

"And it's a go?" Sutherland asked.

"Yes," Pauly said. "It's not really Alan's event. It's not the anglers' event. It's not the chamber's event. It's everybody working together to make it possible.

"It started with the anglers having a small fry out there years and years ago, and it's grown into what it has because of everyone involved."

"Yeah, I think it's a great thing," Sutherland said.

Pauly told trustees the festival would be better suited for the road instead of the grass, where it was traditionally held.

Last summer, "We closed part of Water Street down towards The Silo," she said. "It was moved off of the grass area because of all the rain. So it was moved over to the street, which ended up being a better location for the festival."

"I think where they're holding it is a good idea - on the street - because if it gets wet, (the grass) will be destroyed," Trustee Dan Gibson said.

Sutherland said, "I think it will be helpful in the future that you include in (the facility request) that coordination and approval with The Silo has been coordinated and approved. So we can add that as an addendum to the motion, I believe, that provided The Silo is aware and approves of the festival."

"Do you want to include the River Anglers in that as well, since all three are (involved)?" asked Rick Haight, former chairman of the chamber board of directors.

"The River Anglers - that's fine. They're just using the facility," Sutherland said. "OK, we'll add that, that The Silo and the River Anglers approve the festival and its location and funding."

Following the board meeting, Hastings sent the following statement to the Sentinel.

"I truly don't know what happened to this collaboration. When the Smelt Festival was created under the direction of Sandy Hays (Mies) as the head of the chamber it was a real joint effort! Last year we had some bad weather and a poor turnout.

"I was also told it was my responsibility to pay for the tents. Pay for the tents on top of the band, the 500 pounds of smelt at almost $5 a pound, all the cocktail sauce, liquor liability, fryer oil, a crew for setup and teardown, etc., etc. I don't think that I should be losing money on an event that I am not getting credit for."

Hastings was not pleased about the tent setup, either. He said he was told to pay for past years' rentals. He said Hays Mies used to find a sponsor to pay for the tent.

"I don't see that effort being contributed any more," Hastings said. "This was frustrating, because I did not order the tents, nor negotiate their price, and had never had this responsibility in the 12 years I have done this event."

He continued, "And I am disappointed the chamber has not found a way to contribute to the festival. The way I see it, they have only backed-out and continue to take credit by controlling the press and marketing. I have been told the chamber 'wants to help out more,' but it's not enough, really, to keep this going if they won't pitch in financially or go find a sponsor."

Despite Hastings' discouragement, the festival is still slated to take place May 1.

Pauly said, "The Smelt Festival has grown over the years from a small gathering of the Niagara River Anglers to the festival format it is now. The collaboration between the Silo, the anglers and the chamber has been the festival format since early 2000s.

"This festival is a great celebration of what the waterfront has to offer and we want to ensure that those involved have a profitable weekend, from collecting donations to selling food and beverage. The chamber has assisted this in the past with promotion, coordination and volunteering time at the festival (and) we will continue to do (that).

"We view the festival as a collaborative effort and want to keep communication open to make sure all involved benefit. Weather also is a huge factor in attendance and we hope it is favorable this coming May."

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