Thursday, May 2, 2013

Update: Oyster Fest Mess

Posted By on Thu, May 2, 2013 at 2:40 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DREW HYLAND
  • Photo by Drew Hyland
The $10 Oyster Fest admission fee – which raised the ire of many oyster-eaters and the approval of many others – won’t line the pockets of the Arcata elite, says Arcata Main Street Executive Director Jennifer Koopman.

Because of recent financial woes, Koopman said, Main Street needs money to keep Oyster Fest afloat. Not to mention Main Street’s other events throughout the year, including Arts! Arcata. The fee will allow Main Street to fund an aquaculture grant and an Arcata High School scholarship program, she said.

Also – the festival has gotten too big and too unruly. From a press release:

Arcata Main Street’s Board of Directors hopes the $10 entrance fee will change the dynamic and energy of the event, making it safer and more fun for all ages. In addition, the non-profit organization is working with the Arcata Police Department, the Arcata Fire Protection District and the City of Arcata to manage the large crowds and maintain the crowd’s civility as the event comes to an end at 5:30 p.m.

The Oyster Festival will operate a little differently this year. Due to organizational budgets, festival management and attendance, safety concerns and increasing costs, Arcata Main Street will charge a $10 entrance fee to enter the festival grounds surrounding the Arcata Plaza. There will be no charge for beer wristbands.

“Putting on a festival of this magnitude is very expensive and unfortunately due to the loss of redevelopment funds from the state we have had our budget cut dramatically,” said Arcata Main Street Vice President Nicholas Matthews. “These budget cuts and the increasing price of putting on this event had put the viability of promoting future events of this nature in jeopardy.”

The full press release can be read at the bottom of this post.

Previously:

When The Journal broke the news Tuesday that admission to this year’s Oyster Festival will cost $10, folks went into a tizzy.

In more than 100 comments on The Journal’s Facebook page, detractors decry the “elitist” move and threaten boycotts, while proponents say 10 clams is a small price to pay for a day of music and fun at one of Humboldt County’s most popular events. At least one disgruntled vendor is trying to back out.

Amid the hollering, a whole lot of questions remain. Some are suggesting that kids get in free. Others hint at a major headlining band. Yet others say that Main Street is holding on by a thread and needs the money — don’t be stingy.

And while defenders of the decision have asked for an opportunity for Arcata Main Street to explain, calls and emails to Executive Director Jennifer Koopman, Board President David Neyra and Vice President Nick Matthews were not fruitful. Koopman and Neyra said they were too busy to talk. Matthews didn't respond.

Here’s what we do know: The Oyster Fest permit is currently circulating through Arcata’s various departments. Before the city manager signs off on a “major event” application, public works, the police and others must give it the OK.

City Recreation Manager Heather Stevens said this year’s permit application doesn’t look any different than last year’s, aside from some “snow fencing” (picture that thin, orange, plastic-y chicken wire-type barrier) on Ninth Street. It’s unclear how Main Street will keep separate the paid festivalgoers from the “riff-raff” lamented by Facebook commenters.

“It doesn’t look like on their map they have any other fencing that I see,” Stevens said.

Stevens hadn’t heard about the admission fee until it started flying around Facebook, but said that didn’t matter — it’s up to the discretion of the event organizers to charge or not. The permit is still awaiting thumbs up from the police.

Walt Cordeiro, the general manager of Hana Restaurant in Eureka, said he’s trying to get a refund for the $950 his restaurant plunked down a week and a half ago for booth space. Two days ago, he found out about the fee.

“My main concern was that there was no real discussion about these changes,” he said. “Everyone’s kind of shocked.” He said the potential loss of customers made the $4,000 oyster booth investment too risky. This was going to be Hana’s first year at the festival.

Cordeiro said it doesn’t appear Main Street will change its mind about the fee, though he said Koopman was understanding about his concerns. “The community needs to be a part of this conversation,” he said. “I don’t even want to cause trouble for anybody. I want things to go good for everyone.”

Main Street press release:

Are you ready to shuck and swallow some of the freshest Oysters at the 23 annual Arcata Main Street’s Oyster Festival? Come on down to the Arcata Plaza on Saturday, June 15, 2013. The Oyster Festival will once again highlight and celebrate the plump and sweet Kumamoto oyster, raised and grown directly in Humboldt and Arcata Bays.

More than 30 culinary vendors will set up shop on the Plaza cooking everything up from raw and barbecued oysters to hot dogs to sushi as well as all kinds of Asian cuisine. Even if you don’t like oysters, there will be other succulent creations and food delights from our area’s best chefs for you to try.

The Oyster Festival will operate a little differently this year. Due to organizational budgets, festival management and attendance, safety concerns and increasing costs, Arcata Main Street will charge a $10 entrance fee to enter the festival grounds surrounding the Arcata Plaza. There will be no charge for beer wristbands.

“Putting on a festival of this magnitude is very expensive and unfortunately due to the loss of redevelopment funds from the state we have had our budget cut dramatically,” said Arcata Main Street Vice President Nicholas Matthews. “These budget cuts and the increasing price of putting on this event had put the viability of promoting future events of this nature in jeopardy.”

Arcata Main Street’s Board of Directors hopes the $10 entrance fee will change the dynamic and energy of the event, making it safer and more fun for all ages. In addition, the non-profit organization is working with the Arcata Police Department, the Arcata Fire Protection District and the City of Arcata to manage the large crowds and maintain the crowd’s civility as the event comes to an end at 5:30 p.m.

“The event in the past has experienced estimated crowds up to 16,000,” Arcata Main Street Executive Director Jennifer Koopman said.

“The Oyster Festival has been hugely successful and growing — something for which people travel hundreds of miles to have their first taste of our community,” said Arcata Main Street President Dave Neyra. “But the growth and success has not come without costs, some of which threaten the event itself. Over the past years, our non-profit organization has had increasing complaints that the festival was becoming too crowded to attend, especially for families. But perhaps even more concerning were the increases in security problems with the event, some of which were related to the increase in attendance.”

The $10 entrance fee will also allow the Oyster Festival to reinvest in Humboldt’s aquaculture industry. Arcata Main Street has set up a support fund with Humboldt Area Foundation, where a portion of the proceeds will be donated back to local environmental projects.

Arcata Main Street’s Oyster Festival started 23 years ago as a way to promote Humboldt’s aquaculture businesses. Over 70 percent of the fresh oysters consumed in California are grown in 450 acres of Arcata Bay.

Arcata Main Street’s Board of Directors wanted to find a way to give back and to say thank you to all the oyster entrepreneurs in our area who ultimately want to develop and grow commercially viable, environmentally sound and culturally sensitive aquaculture businesses.

It is because of these local oyster farms and companies that we are able to highlight one of Humboldt County’s sustainable food sources, as well as bring attention to our beautiful and delicious oysters on a national level.

“Hopefully, with the additional funding raised from this year’s event, Arcata Main Street will be able to sustain itself for another year with the ultimate goal of being able to support downtown Arcata merchants,” Koopman said.

Arcata Main Street will not only be able to continue to reinvest in the business community, but will continue to produce events like Arts! Arcata, Picnics on the Plaza, Concerts on the Plaza, Trick or Treat On & Around the Plaza and the Season of Wonder & Light which all help foster a family-friendly atmosphere and community in downtown Arcata.

“The potential increase in revenue from the Oyster Festival will not only allow Arcata Main Street to continue to invest in our local community with these type of events, but in other areas as well,” Matthews said.

The organization is also making plans to set up a scholarship fund, to have more events on the Plaza as well as contribute more to Arcata Plaza’s beautification projects. “The money raised from this event will also help the organization be more self-sufficient,” Festival Planning Committee Member, Bill Chino said.

Tickets are available on Hold My Ticket’s website, holdmyticket.com, and can be purchased in advance. Advance ticket sales will allow festival goers to enter the event more quickly, as the lines will move faster at all the four-corner token booths. Main Street has hired Select Bank Card to handle credit card transactions at the four corner booths. Local banks and tellers will donate their time working the corner booths to allow for quick entry.

The festival will employ a local fence company, Craft Mart, to create a safer venue area. Children under 12 will still get into the event for free, $5 for kids ages 12 to 17, and if you’re bringing the whole family, an expanded kids' play area will be located between Eighth and G streets.

The organization will also use two shuttles from the City of Arcata that are free to festival-goers to help alleviate traffic and cars in the downtown area.

The festival will continue to include award-winning, local microbrews from Lost Coast Brewing Company and Mad River Brewing Company as well as new selections from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Blue Moon Brewing Company and Crown Imports (Pacifico).

Members of the California Conservation Corps will donate their time to help the festival with sanitation for the third straight year.

Festival-goers who volunteer their time will receive free entry into the festival, an official Oyster Festival T-shirt, and a beer token ($41 value).

Arcata Main Street employs local artists to submit their artwork for the official Oyster Festival poster every year. The 2013 Oyster Festival poster proudly features art by Arcata painter Joyce Jonté, who is also featured artist for the Arcata Main Street event series including Arts! Arcata, Picnics on the Plaza, Concerts on the Plaza, Trick or Treat On & Around the Plaza and the Season of Wonder & Light posters.

In addition to the grilled mollusks and frosty beverages, the event will also feature live performances by the quirky and danceable, Yogoman Burning Band from the Pacific Northwest as well as Humboldt’s own jazzy and funk band, Motherlode. A third band will be announced at a later date. The money raised from the event will also help the organization pay a sound technician, stage rental and to purchase much needed sound equipment to be used at other events and available for rent.

In between the eating, drinking and slurping, KWPT 100.3 FM and 102.7 FM’s The Point presents their annual Shuck & Swallow competition where the 2012 defending champions, Aidan Semingson (the shucker) and Conor Eckholm (the swallower), go for yet another oyster knockout and gold belt. If you think you can beat this oyster shucking and swallowing dream team, contact The Point, to enter… if you dare!

The event will also feature two other notable contests. The Oyster Calling contest will include both young and old participants who will try to yell out what an oyster would sound like if the oyster were to ask his friends to join him at the Oyster Festival. Listen to KGOE 1480 AM if you’d like to win a chance to be an honorary oyster judge for this unique contest, as well as free tickets to the event. Twelve judges will receive an official Oyster Festival T-shirt from Humboldt Outfitters. There’s also an oyster-food judging contest where three winners will receive a specially designed plaque from Humboldt’s own recycled glass company, Fire & Light originals.

Festival organizers ask that you pay special attention to the recycling and trash bins throughout the event as almost every product at the festival will be recycled, recyclable or properly disposed. The recycled oyster shells will be donated to the local fish hatcheries. The California Department of Fish & Wildlife Mad River Hatchery will use the shells as biofilters for reconditioning of the water for the fish.

The event begins at 10 a.m. and concludes at 5:30 p.m. All ages are welcome. All adults wishing to buy alcohol must produce and show current I.D. All non-refundable $6 beer tokens can be purchased at the four corner booths on the Plaza. All the funds raised at this annual event — from the beer tokens to the entrance and booth fees — will support Arcata Main Street’s non-profit organization. Your generous donations will keep Arcata Main Street and the Oyster Festival going for many years to come!

Come down to the Plaza on June 15 and join us in our quest to consume thousands of oysters while supporting your community at the 23rd annual Oyster Festival.

For more information, contact Arcata Main Street at (707) 822-4500, arcatamainstreet.com or on Facebook.

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Grant Scott-Goforth

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Grant Scott-Goforth has been an assistant editor and staff writer for The Journal since 2013.

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