2008-07-04 / Columnists

Notes from the High C's

Rockaway Music and Arts Council
by Sharon Gabriel

This is a column I have tried not to write for almost two years.

At this time of the year I should be telling you about the concerts we will be presenting this summer and about our Festival, but because of ongoing problems with our federal government there will probably be no concerts at Gateway this season and once again, the Festival is getting a late start.

As you read last week in The Wave, in the editorial, a full-page letter by our President, Steve Yaeger, a Letter to The Editor and other writers, the problems we have been having with Gateway over the past two years have finally come out completely.

We, at the RMAC, have not said much because we were trying to negotiate with Gateway and not write about our problems in the press in the hope that we would be successful in our discussions.

However, that has not happened.

For whatever their reasons, Gateway has not made discussions easy. Many times meetings were cancelled or the necessary Gateway executives were not at meetings and no progress was made in discussions. It came to a point where we finally contacted our elected officials, and that happened quite a while ago, not recently as noted in this paper last week.

I personally spoke to Anthony Weiner at a party held at the Knights of Columbus almost two years ago and asked him to please step in to try to get Gateway to move ahead so that we could have our Fall Festival. At that time they were dragging their feet in agreeing to the Festival and we needed to send out vendor applications by the end of the year and Gateway would not give us an answer. This was in addition to the problems with the concerts, which were just beginning. Letters were also sent to Chuck Schumer and we spoke to both Audrey Pheffer and Joe Addabbo, even though they are state and city officials and not federal officials.

The discussions with Gateway dragged on and while we finally did have our Fall Festival, many vendors had already made other arrangements and so we lost them.

This was happening at the same time as we were told by the new Ft. Tilden management (who had just come in to take over running the park) that we couldn't sell raffles at the concerts because, according to our Federal Government, raffles are "gambling", and there is no gambling on federal land.

Forget the fact that we had been doing this for many years by raffling off a few baskets of goodies which added to the enjoyment of the evening. At one of the concerts, I spoke to the person running Riis Park and Ft. Tilden and explained that the park was not something like Yosemite or Yellowstone or The Grand Canyon, and if the local people were not welcome, who would be there.

There are no geysers, no redwood trees or anything else to bring people to the park. That person gave me an answer that persuaded me that they were not interested in anything we had to say, they were going to do whatever they wanted to do and so be it. I personally believe they would be happy if no one ever came to the park. Maybe they have budget problems, but they are not problems that should be put on the citizens. We pay much in taxes and this is our park and we should be able to use it. We are more than happy to work with the park but they have put many obstacles in our way.

One of the more ridiculous things they tried was during discussions for the Festival. At one point they discussed charging us for toilet paper. Yes, you read that right, charging for toilet paper! (That still gives us a laugh at our meetings). While we didn't have to bring our own paper for our visitors, we did provide soap.

If you remember, our original festival site was at the parade grounds where the concerts are held. Gateway decided many years ago that they didn't want the festival there and so we had to find another venue. That is how we came to Riis Park.

Even through Riis Park is part of Gateway, there was a loophole of which we availed ourselves. You may notice that all events at the festival are on the grassy areas. The reason for that is that the grass areas are all city property and we are allowed to use them without any major problems. So we got around the federal government still found ways to charge for such things as picking up garbage, etc. which we agreed to pay for. I can remember Barbara Eisenstadt and myself and our other members going around, when the festival ended, and picking up papers that had been thrown on the ground so that the park personnel did not have to do it.

To get back to the concerts, as you read last week discussions are underway to try to have some of our concerts in the interior or the bath house. My feeling is that this is not going to happen and I am terribly sad to say that. It is just not the right venue for a concert.

In the past we have always had good relations with the park personnel, we worked with them and they worked with us and we were able to provide a wonderful service to our neighbors but over the past two years things have just gone from bad to worse.

We didn't want this to happen.

We have been in the park for about 25 years, 23 of them without any major problems.

We appreciate all of the help we are getting from our neighbors and we thank you. Write to your government officials, letters to the editor and anything else that might get Gateway to understand that they have created bad feelings between our local residents and themselves.

We appreciate all of your support and we look forward to seeing you this summer.

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