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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. 

COOS BAY — The preliminary figures released last week for the inaugural Festival of Sail brought with them more questions than answers related to its financial success as well as what happened to some $40,000 in public money that helped fund it. 

On Tuesday, 92.9 K-Dock reported that event promoter Tom Leahy told the Coos Bay-North Bend Rotary club that 3,700 tickets were purchased for the weekend.

He said an additional 2,700 tickets were donated to sponsors, investors and the community. 

According to Leahy, ticket buyers from 17 states helped pump in $200,000 to the local economy in "the form of payment for products and services needed to put on the event."

If true, the figure falls well short of the $800,000 plus organizer Draw Events touted to investors last year when pitching the festival. 

The ticket numbers are also far fewer than even the lowest projections festival organizers told prospective sponsors — including Coos County, Coos Bay and North Bend — to expect. 

The county gave $7,000 from its economic development fund to the Coos Bay Boat Building Center for the event, while Coos Bay and North Bend gave donations through their transient room tax, providing $15,000 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.

In a preliminary budget issued by Draw Events last year, the company had estimates ranging from 15,000 attendees for "single-day on-board" and 10,000 for "multi-day on-board."

It also said the event could expect to see 7,000 people purchasing single-day, festival only tickets. 

The promotion company did not return calls requesting comment by the time this article was published. 

When asked by The World on Friday to clarify the number of attendees, Leahy demurred. 

“I couldn’t count everybody,” he said. “I wasn't on site 24-hours a day to see all that came to the dock but there were people there continuously.”

Leahy added that it was difficult to keep track of visitors that came on to the festival's site outside its normal hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

He said he plans to present a letter on behalf of the Boat Building Center to Coos Bay City Council at their regular meeting on Tuesday. 

“I’m still waiting for information to come in but I think that’s pretty good information for you for now,” he added. 

Leahy told The World last Friday that he would have figures and more details this week. 

He reiterated a week later that those numbers were still being calculated. 

Boat Building Center Vice President Jim Berg said he anticipated the final figures would be released in the coming weeks. 

"There will be a complete accounting for every penny," he added. 

According to Berg, the data Draw Events used to project attendance proved to be flawed when applied to a community Coos Bay's size.

He said the company had never done an event in a community as small as Oregon's largest coastal city. 

"(Their projections) were obviously a rosier picture than what actually occurred," Berg said.

The result was a pricey four-day event that fell short of expectations. 

"This thing was expensive and you know we just didn't get the return back from visitors we’d been led to believe," Berg said, who explained that the Boat Center would aim to bring back the traditional Tall Ships festival of previous years.

"I think this was an experiment to see — you know — a bigger event," he said. "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."

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