The Ocean Shores City Council pulled an end run and a double reverse on May 29 to reconsider a request to help fund this summer’s Fan Fest & Beach Party event for Seahawks fans.
Two weeks earlier, the council by a 4-3 vote had turned down a Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) recommendation to award $10,000 in surplus hotel/motel tax revenue to the promoters of the Aug. 17-19 Ocean Shores Fan Fest and Beach Party (formerly known at the Mighty 12’s Fan Fest) to help with sponsorship.
On Tuesday, Council member Diane Solem asked to reconsider the issue, having voted against the funding when it first came up. The issue was not on the agenda, and a number of people wanted to speak to the council on the decision, so Solem, along with funding supporters Jon Martin, Holly Plackett, and Lisa Griebel voted to reconsider the matter under old business.
Then, after hearing impassioned appeals from the public and businesses, Council members Bob Peterson and Steve Ensley changed to “yes” votes along with Solem as the council voted 6-1 to reverse itself and then 6-1 again to provide the funding for Fan Fest.
The result was a round of applause from a packed meeting in which the Council also approved an amended nuisances ordiance designed to “eliminate the issue of feeding of deer and other wild animals (except birds) within the city limits.”
Only Council member Susan Conniry continued to vote against the LTAC proposal in final motions, and she questioned whether action should be postponed to give the public an opportunity to know it was being reconsidered. Conniry later said she would not support action because she believed the motion to reconsider could only be made during the meeting in which the original vote was taken.
Before Council discussion began, Mayor Crystal Dingler noted another Fan Fest sponsor, Oyhut Bay, had requested permission to hold the main festivities as an alternative, but no special event permit application had yet been received by the city, and no one from the development was there to speak to the proposal.
Solem said she made her motion to reconsider based on the new information of the Oyhut permit and that she believed the promoter also had new information to disclose.
Dan Lang. a promoter for Five Star Events, appeared in person for the first time during Council proceedings and explained the need for sponsorship funds arose during discussions with Quinault Beach Resort and Casino (QBRC), which now will host a Saturday night preseason game viewing event as part of Fan Fest this year. He told the council “there has been a little bit of confusion as to the removal of the sponsorship,” which occurred in April.
“We are in a situation this year and it was unexpected that it happened. It put us in a very difficult position,” said the first-year promoter of the event. Lang described a “Plan B” in which the Fan Fest would be held at QBRC and at Oyhut Bay, but not at the Convention Center.
“We have put a lot of time and effort and advertising dollars into it already,” Lang said. “We want to keep it here. We love Ocean Shores, and we want to keep the event here. That’s never been an issue.”
Lang said his goal was to see that local businesses in Ocean Shores also prosper from the event. ”Being new to this, I don’t know everybody and it does take time to do this.”
Bill Kirkham of Galway Bay Irish Restaurant & Pub said previous Fan Fests have brought extra business to the local business community, in addition to the fact that Galway has had a beer garden on site at the Convention Center. Fan Fest, he said, has brought people to Ocean Shores “that didn’t even know we existed.”
“The survival of the community here is based on the events that happen here that bring the tourists here in this town,” Kirkham said. “If the tourists don’t come, then the businesses will suffer as well.”
Leah Roberts, who has worked at the Home Port for 24 years, described how the restaurant is packed with Seahawks fans during games during the season as well as during Fan Fest.
“It is essential to keep the Fan Fest in Ocean Shores because of this,” she said, noting that many fans already have made reservations for Ocean Shores lodging, expecting to have events as well as vendors at the Convention Center.
Home Port owner Ruth McClelland said her business increases 30-50 percent during Fan Fest, and she employs 8-10 more people during the event. Her bar is now decorated as a “Seahawks bar” year-round.
“To have such a successful event and let it go out of town, out of the downtown coridoor, away from the buinesses — plus the hotels they are staying in and the Convention Center — would be a shame,” McClelland said.
Diane Hansen, owner of the Dusty Trunk in the Boardwalks Shops and an event planner locally, said she could not believe the council initially voted against the LTAC recommendation to help the Fan Fest.
“As an event planner, I would love to have this event,” Hansen said. “It is one of the best events that come to Ocean Shores.”
June Bongirno of the Waves of Bling store on Pt. Brown Avenue, which specializes in designer Hawks fan items, said Fan Fest helps “offset the slow winter for me. I’ve heard from other businesses that it’s also their best weekend.”
Playtime Family Fun owner Mike Doolittle said the event produces advertising for the city and brings thousands of people to Ocean Shores who will come back year after year. “If they have a great time, they want to come back and they talk to others,” Doolittle said. “It’s a terrific opportunity to market this town.”
Convention Center manager Cheryl Turner said the result of not supporting the Fan Fest means that a Convention Center client would cancel its booking, a $2,400 rental fee plus a $1,500 catering fee. She also noted that local fund-raising events tied to Fan Fest, such as the pancake breakfast to benefit North Beach High School cheerleaders and Teens Against Destructive Decisions, would have to be canceled.
“We must work together through these obstacles and not punish so many by sticking to the black and white narrow path of inflexibility,” Turner said, imploring the Council members to realize what the result of a yes or no vote would be to avoid what she said would be a “black eye” to the city.
In announcing her changed vote, Solem said it was based on “how many people does it affect, and how many people we have heard from.”
“I’ve had multiple, multiple people contact me and say, ‘Please reconsider,’” she said.
Peterson questioned if it would be possible to give the Convention Center free to the promoter, but City Attorney Brent Dille questioned if that might pose a gift of public funds, which is not permitted, and Lang suggested it might not be enough to gurantee full event participation.
“I don’t look at this as a gift to a promoter. I look at it as marketing funds,” Solem said, later adding: “These are marketing dollars and I think the marketing from this event will offset that money.”
Conniry pressed Lang about who he had committed to appear. Lang responded: “All of our ‘superfans,’ Mama Blue, Mr. and Mrs. Seahawk, Nick Goines (Seahawk Rooster), Hillary Butler, Joe Tofoya (former Seahawks),” as well as others such as former kicker Norm Johnson.
Martin, a member and chair of the LTAC meeting that inititially recommended the funding request, noted the money comes from a fund that is set aside for marketing and not from the city’s general fund.
“If we don’t spend the money, it just sits there,” he noted. “… I think this is an important thing for us to put our money behind, and it will dramatically impact small businesses.”
As a business owner himself, Martin said for the city to “not do anything is the wrong choice.”