2000-07-01 / Front Page

‘Festival’ Causes Concerns

By Joan Ward George

Rockaway merchants on and ar-ound the Beach 116 street business strip were up in arms last Friday after viewing a full page ad in The Wave touting a "Rockaway Beach Boardwalk Crafts Festival". It was the first time any of the merchants had heard of such a "festival" which is scheduled to have its grand opening on Saturday, July 1, kicking off the July 4th weekend. According to the ad, the festival is scheduled to be held July 2, July 3 and July 4 and continue throughout the entire summer season, each and every Saturday through the Labor Day weekend.

The location of the "festival" is on the boardwalk from Beach 113 street to Beach 115 street. The advertisement, placed by Clearview Festival Productions, a private company that produces many successful such exhibitions all over New York City, announces that "there will be over 50 exciting exhibitors" featuring articles such as hand crafted jewelry, beach hats/caps/bags, sarongs, sunglasses, hair accessories, crystal figurines, beach apparel, skin car products, nostalgic collectibles, leather goods, gift items and beach related items.

Merchants in the area are furious that they were not informed of the festival, that they had no input into the decision making process for the approval of permits, and that they would certainly have chosen a different location along Rockaway’s vast expanse of boardwalk.

According to Elizabeth Sullivan, assistant to New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, the promoter of the "festival’ made his request to the Parks Department back in November, 1999 and at that time an RFP (Request For Proposal) was forwarded to Rosemary Murray, chairman of Rockaway’s Community Board 14, and to Jonathan Gaska, district manager of the local community board. She explained that having no negative reply from the community board, the Parks Department saw no reason not to approve the proposal.

However, according to Sullivan, the permit was not issued until last week, seven months after the initial RFP. This is what area merchants are steaming over -- the eleventh hour announcement of what is being advertised as a "festival", but which is actually in their minds direct competition from vendors selling the exact same "beach items" that local merchants make their bread and butter off of during the busy summer season. In many cases, they say, this is what keeps their businesses going for the rest of the year.

Both the Parks Department and the promoter told The Wave that it was their intention that this was to be a good thing for Rockaway, "bringing people to visit the beaches here", "brightening up the area" and "adding more color to the area".

Not withstanding the objections of the merchants, public safety and overall security issues have been questioned by local Rockaway officials.

Jonathan Gaska told The Wave yesterday that the location, the absolute narrowest part of the boardwalk, was probably not the right choice.

The commanding officer of the 100 Precinct, Captain Gary Scirica, also had first knowledge of the "festival" after finding out about The Wave advertisement earlier this week. On what is the busiest weekend of the summer, Scirica questions the advisability of the location which, given a good weather forecast, will be overflowing with people who arrive in droves off the buses and trains that have their last stop at Beach 116 street.

It is expected that the Parks Enforcement Personnel will be handling the major part of the security for the event since it is being held on their boardwalk property. However, should any public safety problems get out of hand, officers of the 100 Precinct would also be there to keep order.

"As soon as we were notified we were concerned, particularly given such a late notification" said Scirica. "We are now working closely with the Parks Department in an effort to coordinate our efforts to insure that the event goes as smoothly as possibly and that no public safety dangers arise."

The promoter of the festival is hoping that his efforts result in a positive experience for the Rockaway community.

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