Tisbury turns up volume on music festival

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Adam Epstein, CEO of Innovation Arts & Entertainment, shown here at a previous selectmen’s meeting in December, was at the meeting again on Tuesday lobbying for a 3-day music festival. — Josephine Brennan

Discussions about a three-day music festival planned for this summer continued Tuesday night, with more speculation and no firm decision.

Adam Epstein, CEO of Innovation Arts & Entertainment, the event promoter, was back with a more detailed plan that included weekend dates August 9-11 at Veterans Memorial Park, including a proposal to share revenue with the town. His pitch included paying $2 per paid attendee, 5 percent of all food and soft drink revenue over $100,000, 20 percent of all alcohol sales after deductions for costs, and 10 percent of all ticket revenue beyond $1.6 million. Whether such a revenue-sharing contract is legal is something selectmen want the town’s lawyer to review.

Epstein said he would also be willing to offer a lump-sum payment if the revenue-sharing deal is not allowed.

Innovation Arts & Entertainment, which already has a successful Summer Concert Series on Island, would heavily promote use of public transportation, offer a service fee for Vineyard Haven shops to sell tickets, and provide incentive for Islanders to purchase tickets, Epstein told the board. He said discussion that parking would be needed for 6,000 cars is exaggerated, but he noted that he would work with local charities to use places like the high school parking lot for paid parking and shuttles.

With the open questions about revenue, two selectmen — Jim Rogers and Melinda Loberg — said they need more time to sift through the details before making a decision. “I need to digest that information before I take a vote,” Rogers said.

Loberg also said she’s heard from residents, and the reaction was not good. “They were universally questioning our sanity in trying this in Tisbury,” she said. “That has made an impact on me. However, I would still like to explore the parameters of this and the ability of the town to even say yes.”

The proposed concert, first talked about publicly at a selectmen’s meeting last month, ignited a firestorm of feedback — some of it targeted at the musical acts that were floated like Willie Nelson, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Bonnie Raitt, and others bemoaning the location and traffic such an event would bring to Vineyard Haven.

Epstein, during his presentation, used some self-deprecating humor to soften the blow of some initial reactions on social media. “I’ve seen a lot of comments about the names we were throwing out there, and the names were just to illustrate style, they were not meant to indicate offers were extended. These were ideas,” he said. “The criticism was pretty intense.”

Selectmen received two letters opposing the festival, including one from Seth Gambino, who owns La Choza Burritos on Main Street. Gambino was at the meeting and read his letter, which predicted the influx of people would “cripple our downtown” and overtax the town’s resources.

The Veterans Memorial Park venue is surrounded by year-round residences, he said. “Please resist the urge to make it just like everywhere else,” he said.

A letter from Mark Hahn of Franklin Terrace, read aloud by Israel, predicted “gridlock” and urged selectmen to reject the idea.

The three-day festival seeks to attract about 8,500 people per day — about 2,000 fewer people than the Ag Fair attracts on its busiest day, Epstein said. The showing of “Jaws” on Friday night with a symphony playing the movie’s score would likely attract fewer people, he said.

Later, Epstein and Gambino had a brief, heated exchange when Gambino urged selectmen to investigate a similar festival at a ski resort that hurt a small town.

Epstein was accommodating to other concerns raised. For example, when chairman Tristan Israel suggested a later starting time on Saturday than 12 noon to allow the Post Office business to quiet down for the day, Epstein said he was open to that.

Several other people at Tuesday night’s meeting spoke in favor of the festival. Jeff Kristal, chairman of the town’s finance committee, said the potential revenue stream is something the town desperately needs. “We have no income stream like this. This is a phenomenal opportunity,” he said noting that police and fire officials have worked out a budget and Epstein has agreed to pay those costs up front. “If it doesn’t work out after the first year, at least we can say we tried it.”

Sarah York of the Vineyard Haven Business Association said Gambino’s objections are not shared by the majority of business owners in the Main Street area. Vineyard Haven businesses would like to have an event like the Food and Wine Festival in Edgartown or the fireworks in Oak Bluffs, she said. “We’re lacking an event that draws people here,” York said.

Jeff Cahna, a Tisbury resident, said it would be a throwback to the days when concerts were held in the town parking lot next to Stop & Shop. “I’d like to applaud in efforts to bring some economic stimulation to this town,” he said. “This would be a good shot in the arm, and maybe a kick-start to something this town really needs.”

Dan Doyle, another Tisbury resident supporting the event, told selectmen that residents of the area would have fair warning about the event. “I hope the board takes a look and recognizes it as an opportunity,” he said. “Everyone who lives here knows not to drive down there. They’ll show up on foot.”

That was a point Epstein made repeatedly. He’s looking to create a walkable event and one that’s easily accessed from other Island towns by public transportation.

Concerns about public drinking, parking, and closing times are all things that can be ironed out, Epstein assured the board. He used the word “flexible” several times.

The board could discuss the festival again as early as next Tuesday, though town administrator Jay Grande made no guarantees that answers would be ready by then.

Epstein expressed some urgency, noting that bands are signing on to festivals across the country. “In order for this to be successful, it does take a team, but it also takes talent,” he said.

In other business, Grande said the a kiosk system is working well for parking at the Park and Ride and the town is getting more revenue, though he didn’t talk specifics. The police department is writing fewer tickets, he said, so that revenue is down.

Israel asked Police Chief Mark Saloio to come up with a more organized plan to check for parking violations.

Selectmen also voted unanimously to ask town counsel what the town would have to do to accommodate a request from the Black Dog Tavern to be able to serve alcohol with brunch beginning at 10 am Sundays. There was some confusion about whether selectmen could make the change, or if it had to go before town meeting.

Building inspector Ken Barwick gave selectmen an update on his department, saying the Martha’s Vineyard Museum renovations are all done and are closed out as far as the building department is concerned. “Everything went relatively smoothly,” he said.

Rogers, who has made frequent comments recently about suspected zoning violations around town, asked Barwick to check out one on State Road that he says is a “blight” on the neighborhood. The property owner is allowing commercial vehicles to park on the property, Rogers said. “It’s unsightly and it’s illegal,” Rogers said.

Barwick said he had already asked the property owner to take down a sign advertising the parking, and planned to return to talk to him about concerns raised by Rogers.

Ben Robinson was reappointed as the town’s representative to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

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