Organizers of a two-day Latin beach festival are accusing Ventnor officials of reneging on a promise that would have allowed them to hold the festival in a strip mall area on Wellington Avenue later this month.
The two-day 2013 Latin Freestyle Beach Festival was to take place Sept. 21 and 22 at 4900 Wellington Ave. and was expected to draw more than 14,000 people, many of whom had purchased tickets, said Conrad J. Benedetto, an attorney for promoter Sandstock Inc.
Cindi Martinez, president of Sandstock, said the event had the approval of Mayor Mike Bagnell last month, when Sandstock announced the location had been moved to Ventnor from Atlantic City. A statement from the company quoted the mayor as welcoming the event.
“We were happy to help the Latin community and the Latin Freestyle Festival when we found out that the original venue was unavailable to them,” an Aug. 9 email from city Administrator Tom Quirk to Sandstock Executive Director David Haislip states. A copy of the email, which was mailed from the mayor’s account, was provided by Sandstock to The Press of Atlantic City.
“We welcome the Latin Freestyle festival and anticipate a fun, family weekend with lots of great food, and merchandise and a stellar music lineup,” the email states.
Based on the emails, Martinez said, “we were under the impression, as the email and conversations had suggested, that everything was finalized.”
But on Wednesday, the city’s Recreation Board denied the group’s permit request, forcing it to cancel the event and compensate all ticket holders, vendors and sponsors less then two weeks before the event was planned, Benedetto said.
“Our understanding is when you have a mayor of a town and his office welcome you in and direct you to a site, that’s a done deal,” Benedetto said. “This was going to happen because the mayor said it’s going to happen.”
Bagnell declined to comment Friday, as did Recreation Board President Jerry Thomas. Both referred questions to city Solicitor Amy Weintrob.
Weintrob said she could not verify whether Bagnell agreed to the event but did say the mayor does not have the authority to approve such an event under the city’s special events ordinance.
Under Ordinance 193, the Ventnor Recreation Board must approve all special events.
Until Friday morning, the festival was being promoted on multiple Internet sites, including Sandstock’s website and Facebook page and on YouTube. Sandstock had been planning the festival since February.
Weintrob said she did not know why the event application wasn’t brought before the Recreation Board at its Aug. 11 meeting, nor did she know whether the board had known about the event prior to Tuesday’s meeting, when they declined the application.
The main reason the board declined the application, Weintrob said, was because the ordinance states that all special events held in Ventnor must be hosted by a nonprofit, which Sandstock is not.
“Despite the fact that they were planning to give some of their proceeds to charity, they were not a nonprofit,” she said.
Also, Weintrob said, the board found the land at 4900 Wellington was not appropriate to host such an event.
On Friday, Kate Connors, executive director of the public relations firm that is assisting Sandstock, released a statement announcing the event’s cancellation, citing what she said was Bagnell’s inability to fulfill his promise.
Connors said the cancellation will not only be a loss for festivalgoers but for those still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
A portion of the proceeds would have gone to the New Jersey Relief Fund and The Red Cross to benefit victims of Sandy, promoters said.
Connors said Sandstock is working to rebook the artists for future events in other cities and exploring “all legal avenues” to repay vendors and ticket holders.
The event was to include more than a dozen musical performers, food vendors, artisans, merchandise, beer and wine, and appearances by Bagnell and Atlantic City mayoral candidate Don Guardian, its advertisements stated.
The group had originally requested to hold the event on the beach in Atlantic City, but as the event neared, its crowd estimates of 30,000 festivalgoers led Atlantic City officials to change the venue to Bader Field, which could accommodate the large crowd, said Wilbur Banks, director of the Atlantic City Department of Health and Human Services.
Use of that site would have required fees for use of Bader Field, emergency services and traffic control, Banks said. The group, which thought the site was to be free, opted to look elsewhere.
Benedetto said his client has lost money because of the Ventnor cancellation.
“They had advertisements out there, presold tickets and sponsorship,” Benedetto said. “It’s not just Sandstock involved, it’s others people that are losing here, too.”
Matthew Harris of Maple Health and Wellness Center, one of the event’s sponsors, issued a statement saying the business still supports Sandstock and will continue to sponsor its events.
“We are aware of the cancellations of this event due to circumstances beyond the control of Sandstock, Inc.,” Harris’ statement said. “We have participated in several events with this promoter since 2009 and they were all successful events. It is unfortunate that politics would interfere with the contributions to charities that would have benefited form this event, not to mention the celebration of the Hispanic culture.”
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