Festival of Sail (copy)

The inaugural Festival of Sail at The Mill Casino in North Bend was thrust into the center of controversy last month following criticism from patrons, local businesses and community leaders who say the festival's promoters failed to deliver on its promises. 

Bethany Baker, The World

COOS BAY — The inaugural Festival of Sail again dominated Coos Bay City Council’s public comment section at Tuesday night’s regular meeting.

Boat Building Center member Robert More gave an impassioned defense of the four-day event.  

“I’m here today to thank you for the support,” he said. “I’m also here to thank the Coos Bay Boat Building Center, which has received virtually no thanks from the community for taking a risk, for going out on a limb to try something different and all they've gotten is beaten up in The World.”

More was referencing the three articles published by The World over the past week detailing the festival’s attendance, ticket sales and funding, which included $40,000 of public money from Coos County, Coos Bay and North Bend.

Event promoter and center president, Tom Leahy, had planned to present a letter to councilors on behalf of the Boat Building Center regarding the event but was hospitalized on Monday, according to family Facebook accounts.

It was not clear if More was speaking as a representative of the boat center or as just a private citizen.

He said he talked to several hundred people at the festival and “did not hear one complaint.”

More said he and other center members built a traditional Irish currach — a small boat with animal hides stretched over a wood frame — and that it drew large crowds.

“It’s a real draw because it’s different both in design and construction,” More said.

He called the weekend a test for future festivals.

“(It) didn’t work out,” he added. “I know the boat center will never try it again — especially after the result of the stories that have come out — (but)...we’re a big community, we’re the biggest community on the Oregon Coast and we should be able to do this kind of event.”

On Friday, Boat Building Center Vice President Jim Berg told The World he did not anticipate the center would ever attempt an event of similar scale in future years.

"This thing was expensive and you know we just didn't get the return back from visitors we’d been led to believe," he said. "I think this was an experiment to see — you know — a bigger event. Is this something that was gonna work here? And we’ve decided we much prefer our more simpler plan that we’ve done in the past and that’s what we intend to do in the future."

Councilor Lucinda DiNovo, who is also director of sales and marketing for The Mill Casino, said she and the organization were not against larger tall ship events but just wary of outside promoters, like Draw Events.

The promotion company told prospective sponsors for more than a year that the festival would draw in tens of thousands of people and generate more than $800,000 in gross revenue.

Last Tuesday, 92.9 K-Dock reported Leahy told the Coos Bay-North Bend Rotary club — which donated $5,000 to the boat center for the event — that 3,700 tickets were purchased for the weekend and an additional 2,700 tickets were donated to sponsors, investors and the community.

He said the festival helped pump in $200,000 to the local economy in "the form of payment for products and services needed to put on the event,” but declined to clarify when questioned by The World on Friday.

In a brief exchange with DiNovo during Tuesday’s council meeting, More conceded that Draw Events “was where the wheels fell off,” for the festival.

“I hope we haven’t lost our resolve to support (similar events) in the future,” he said.

DiNovo reaffirmed that there was backing in the community for more ambitious tall ship festivals but said the focus should be more local and not rely on outside promoters.

“I think the concept is fabulous and I think there’s been conversations about this by many people in the community about how can we do this, (especially) how can we do this ourselves and make it a success,” she said.

Reporter Spencer Cole can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 249, or by email at Spencer.Cole@theworldlink.com Follow him on Twitter: @spencerdcole.