By JOHN T. WARD
Scratch another big outdoor event from the calendar: this year’s Red Bank Riverfest is off.
The cancellation followed a dispute over money, with the borough claiming it had been shorted last year, and an event organizer saying the town had “nickeled and dimed” the food-and-music festival until it was no longer viable.
This Is It Productions, a Hoboken-based event organizer that ran the waterfront carnival in Marine Park for the Eastern Monmouth County Chamber of Commerce, informed the borough by letter Tuesday that was cancelling this year’s edition of the three-day event, scheduled for June 2 through 4.
The withdrawal came five days after the borough mayor and council told the organizers that in order to obtain event permits, they’d first have to clear up an unpaid $1,000 balance from last year. They would also have to provide “a guaranteed minimum payment of $5,000 to the Red Bank Parks and Recreation Department” from this year’s proceeds, according to an April 13 letter.
A donation to a local charity is required under a New Jersey Alcoholic Beverage Control agency rule governing one-day social affairs permits to serve beer and wine at nonprofit events, borough officials said.
Mayor Pasquale Menna told redbankgreen on Wednesday that the demand followed a failure by organizers to fulfill their commitment to make donation to the Parks and Rec department last year, when the department staffed the event with employees and volunteers.
“I presume This Is It got paid. I presume the chamber of commerce got its cut. I presume the beer and wine purveyors got paid,” Menna said. “There’s got to be a line drawn.”
Lynda Rose, president and chief operating officer at the EMCC, told redbankgreen that last year’s contribution was not specified in advance, and that RiverFest lost money last year. Still, the organizers agreed to donate $1,000 to the borough, she said.
The payment, which borough officials said had not been received last week, was to have been made by the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, Rose said. That oversight is now being corrected, she said.
Menna, however, cast doubt on the assertion that the event lost money.
“Cash is cash,” he said, “and we all know about the profits on the sale of alcohol at an event that draws 100,000 people. You can twist your accounts any way you want to show you’re not making money.”
The town’s stance on the issue was adopted during a closed-door executive session last Wednesday night, which borough officials said was appropriate because it involved contractual issues.
Here’s the borough’s letter: RB Riverfest 041317
In his response letter, This Is It official Scott Harrison told the borough that, “given the rising costs of event production and the incremental requirements from the town for enhanced security and additional financial commitments, the project has become cost prohibitive.”
Here’s Harrison’s response: RiverFest withdrawal 041817
Rose, who is retiring from her post next month after two decades at the helm of the borough-based chamber, was more blunt.
“They’ve nickeled-and-dimed us,” she said of borough officials. “The expenses imposed are well beyond what we’re accustomed to. So we’re just done.”
A $5,000 pledge is not feasible, she said. “We don’t have a crystal ball” to forecast revenue and profits, she said.
Rose said other towns, including Sea Bright, have expressed interest in holding the festival, though it’s now too late in the season to schedule one for this summer.
The fact that Marine Park is undergoing repair work to facilities damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was also a factor in the decision to cancel the event, Rose said. Last week, Councilman Ed Zipprich said new restrooms and lighting now under construction in the park would be ready by June 1.
RiverFest was absent from town for a decade before the present organizers revived in 2011. Its cancellation leaves the borough with no events scheduled for Marine Park this year, and further thins an event schedule that has seen the end of KaBoom Fireworks on the Navensink and the George Sheehan Classic in recent years. It leaves the RiverCenter-sponsored spring and fall food festivals in the White Street parking lot as two remaining fair-weather draws.
Restaurateur George Lyristis, who originated the Red Bank Flavour restaurant consortium and its 2013 Sippin’ on the River event, said he would try to organize a replacement for RiverFest in June, 2018.
Lyristis said he agreed “one-thousand percent” that the borough should benefit financially from events in public spaces that involve alcohol consumption because it is assuming a liability risk.
But the permit fees are “too expensive to do big in-town events,” he said. Borough officials, instead of simply raising fees, should be asking,”how do we fix this?,” he said.
Sherri Ehrlich, a singer who has performed at the festival in each of the past five years, said the borough’s position effectively “just deleted an event that brings culture and music and economic opportunity for many.”
“That really stinks,” she said.