NORTH BEND — The bevy of complaints against last weekend’s Festival of Sail continue to pile up and are beginning to shed light on the problems that derailed the four-day event, an endeavor that local governments gave some $40,000 to help facilitate.
The criticism has ranged from poor organization, lofty promises and in North Bend’s and Coos Bay’s case, a lack of written contracts.
When questioned by The World, none of the parties, ranging from city officials to county commissioners and representatives of The Mill Casino, could seem to agree on how many people the festival was expected to draw.
“This whole thing, the numbers were way out of skew,” Coos Bay-North Bend Visitor and Convention Bureau (VCB) Chair Joseph Monahan said on Wednesday.
Coos Bay City Manager Rodger Craddock said staff and councilors had been told to expect around 10,000 to 20,000 people for the weekend.
North Bend City Administrator Terence O’Connor said on Thursday that event promoter and former Coos Bay city councilor Tom Leahy had advised city law enforcement to expect as many as 30,000 people.
Coos Bay City Councilor Lucinda DiNovo, who is also director of sales and marketing for The Mill Casino-Hotel, said she had been told the event could draw as many as 80,000 people when the topic was broached at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Craddock said that number was what Festival of Sail promoter, Draw Events, had claimed was turnout for similar events held in Los Angeles and Tacoma, Wash.
According to Leahy, the final number for attendance was still being calculated.
“Still working on expenses and other details; no comment until next week and until I have all the facts, figures and future concepts of tall ship activity in the future in Coos Bay,” he said in a text message on Friday.
Draw Events president Craig Samborski directed questions to a public relations representative, who did not return requests seeking comment.
Draw Events’ silence on the matter only leaves more questions for county and city officials who collectively donated $37,000 to the festival.
According to Coos County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins, the county gave $7,000 from its economic development fund to the Coos Bay Boat Building Center to fund the event.
She said the amount was less than a quarter of the $30,000 the center requested.
“It was a lot for us to give,” Cribbins said, who added the simultaneous timing with the Gay 90’s Celebration in Coquille, along with high admission prices were both stumbling blocks for the festival.
“I think whenever you do something like this we always swing for the fences but in economic development you have to keep trying,” Cribbins said. “If we had to wait for everything to be perfect, we wouldn’t get anything done.”
Cribbins said when Leahy came to the county asking for funds, he already had several successful smaller tall ship events under his belt.
“I don’t regret that we gave that money to the Festival of Sail. They still had a great turnout,” Cribbins said. “If I knew then what I know now would I go back and ask other questions? Of course.”
According to a letter of understanding between the boat building center and Coos County, the center has to provide commissioners with its expenditures no later than 90 days after June 30.
Coos Bay and North Bend on the other hand, had no written contract with the Boat Building Center, instead making donations out of their transient room tax, providing $20,000 and $10,000, respectively.
Coos Bay also paid $3,788 for Leahy’s lodging, travel and per diem expenses in 2015, when the then city councilor began touring other festivals in Tacoma, Duluth, Minnesota and Canada.
Leahy also met with Travel Oregon in Portland, according to Craddock.
Additionally, the Coos Bay-North Bend Rotary chipped in $5,000 for the event, while The Mill Casino donated its properties and facilities to host the festival.
On Feb. 16 of this year, Leahy sent an email to the Boat Building Center's board members informing them that he had received $1,000 from Banner Bank, $500 from the Knife River Corporation and that he had been promised $500 each from 7 Devils Brewery, the local Harley Davidson and former Coos Bay mayor Crystal Shoji.
The largest sum of money came in the form of a $100,000 loan from Dennis Beetham, CEO and founder of the North Bend based chemical firm, DB Western, according to the center’s 2016 annual report.
Monahan said that when Leahy was drumming up support for the event last year, he came with an expense sheet that said the festival would draw at least 30,000 people to the area over four days and potentially generate $819,000 in revenue.
Thus far, the only concrete number The World has been able to determine is slightly more than $3,000 in parking fees collected by attendants, according to several volunteers who worked the event.
They said the fees were supposed to be by donation and not required but that some attendants weren't always transparent with visitors.
And even though Leahy has yet to release ticket sale numbers, Coos Bay and North Bend officials did confirm that both received entrance tickets to distribute as they saw fit.
Coos Bay was given 500 tickets, which Craddock said they distributed to local students and children.
O'Connor, while unable to give the exact number of tickets North Bend received, said the city raffled theirs off to allow more underage patrons to attend the event.
Cribbins said the county did not receive any tickets.
Even when the final tally of attendance and overall revenue generated is revealed, many questions remain.
Why were attendance numbers so varied?
What contributed to the 10-percent drop reported by Monahan in hotel occupancy compared to last year?
Finally, where did Draw Events plan to place 12 historic tall ships when there was barely enough room for the four that actually made it to Coos Bay?
The four ships that visited over the weekend measured 380 feet in combined length while available dock space at The Mill was only 180 feet.
"That was always a question everybody had," O'Connor said. "If you get all these boats, where are you going to put them?"
It is those questions and many more along the same lines that has government officials and the local business community hesitant to support similar events in the future.
On Tuesday, The Mill told the Coos Bay City Council that it was withdrawing all its facilities from Festival of Sail in coming years, citing confusion over parking to complaints about costs and accessibility as driving factors.
Similar sentiments were expressed by government officials when questioned by The World.
“I think the council will be wary of entering another agreement that would involve Draw Events,” Craddock said.
O'Connor was in agreement.
"I'd suspect if it ever were to come up again, the chances of the city contributing without some sort of guarantees or assurances is probably nil."