ROCKLAND — “I think the 200th anniversary of the state of Maine is worth spending some money on,” said Councilor Ben Door. “If Rockland ends up having to spend some money on this, I think it’s worth it. Hopefully we don’t get to that point, but I think there is real value in an event like this, for our community.”
Organizing efforts for a large July 4th bicentennial party in Rockland can begin in earnest now that City Council has voted unanimously, Monday, Dec. 16, to become fiscal agents for the event, as well as waive dockage fees for the 110-foot Canadian brigantine, Fair Jeanne, which is being considered to come to the event and provide ticketed tours depending on negotiation between local organizers and Tall Ships of America.
A growing list of local entities have already enlisted their support for the event, including museums and downtown businesses, many of which echo the sentiments of Sail Power and Steam board member Robin McIntosh, who spoke at the Council meeting.
“I know all of us in these organizations....plan on using that event, to build on it, and go into the weekend with events, and be part of it, both at the event itself, and extending it beyond,” she said.
Council members, as well as many community members, view any portion of the tab left uncovered following the initial $20,000 for the vessel, $5,000 contract with Tall Ships, and $2,500 for shared marketing expenses as a minor default to an event that could bring much greater long-term benefits.
The contract with Tall Ships also includes funding costs around having Tall Ships America’s team take care of elements such as the Coast Guard permitting, the Transportation Safety Administration programs, all of the Homeland Security elements, and providing organizers with support and advice.
“As more and more of our children move away from water-based work, it’s so important to bring them back and help them remember our history,” said Councilor Valli Geiger.
Geiger raised funds last summer in the form of Viking Ship tickets for children who couldn’t afford the tickets otherwise.
“I got to see people from all over the state, and all over New England who came to see that ship, who were unbelievably excited about the history of it,” she said. “[People] who spent time on our waterfront, who looked at that ship. We had hundreds of children there.”
The potential cost of this community history lesson to tax payers, along with the lack of information provided to the Rockland Harbor Commission continues to weigh on the HMC, however.
HMC chair Louise MacLellan-Ruf maintained that the Commission, like all Rockland committees and boards, are hard-working volunteers who spend a lot of time researching issues for the sake of the City. The HMC’s role, as read by Councilor Nate Davis, is “to approve use of municipal properties and award fee waivers as appropriate for the use of these properties by such groups or individuals whose presence is appropriate based on specific purposes inline with the harbor area, and whose presence is natural to the harbor.”
MacLellan-Ruf reminded Council about how the planning of the viking ship event last year was slid past the Harbor Commission, and in the end, taxpayers were left with a bill of “thousands and thousands of dollars.”
“I don’t really care if it’s $5,000 or $200,000,” she said. “If the Chamber of Commerce and Allen Agency are so sure that this money will be recouped, than my suggestion is that Council consider having them sign an agreement that any money that is not recouped – that the City loans or gives for this event – can be recouped from the Chamber.”
The Allen Agency is not involved with this event, according to Dan Bookham, who happens to work for the privately-owned business. Bookham clarified that he is involved as a private citizen.
He also stated that he wanted to ease the Commission members’ workload by not overburdening them an unfinished plan. Instead, organizers are “trying to get into a position where we can have a conversation and negotiate some details to bring before the appropriate bodies,” he said.
In clarifying some misinterpretations, Bookham stated that the group is not looking to close Harbor or Buoy parks, but to keep them open to the public to allow access to the docks so that people can see the ship. He also spoke of how the Draaken waived $40,000 in fees in order to come to Rockland.
According to Bookham, the organizers’ goal is to engage citizens and make it a broad based community celebration.
This includes recognizing Rockland’s native fleet, windjammers, ongoing and existing marine nonprofits, ongoing and existing marine industries, the boatbuilders, the artisans, the creative people who put vessels on the water every day in the city, the fishing fleet and the commercial waterfront.
“They’re right out in front of us, and we can do this with a bow on it to celebrate the 200th birthday of the state, and demonstrate that Rockland, almost uniquely, is a port that’s had a continuous traditional rig sailing heritage of commercial working vessels since the state was founded,” he said.
Geiger stated that the Harbor Management Commission has more roles then just looking at the fiscal state of the harbor and the ways in which it can make money. She, in turn, invited the HMC to join with the other groups to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime event.
“An event like this,” said Councilor Ed Glaser, “eventually winds up paying for itself because more people come to the waterfront. More people use the public landing. More people know about it. To some extent, it’s an advertising arm for the city of Rockland. And I look forward to this being an incredibly good event as the year goes on.”
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