Inaugural St. Helens event gets mixed reviews from businesses and attendees

PHOTO COURTESY OF TINA CURRY - The Festival of the Fairies in St. Helens was held over two weekends on the citys waterfront property. The event reportedly drew crowds of hundreds over both weekends, according to the citys contracted event coordinator, Tina Curry.Earlier this month, St. Helens city event planners held an inaugural springtime festival on the city's waterfront, one marketed as an event to delight attendees with visions of fairies, mythical creatures and general merriment.

The Festival of the Fairies was a ticketed event held over two weekends in late April and early May that sought to attract families and young children to the waterfront property for a springtime festival reminiscent of a Renaissance fair or May Day event.

The event drew a mixed reaction from business owners near the St. Helens waterfront — some enthusiastically embraced the concept, while others were apprehensive about the execution of it and a perceived lack of communication leading up to and following the event.

The event, which was planned and promoted primarily by the city's contracted event planner, Tina Curry, was largely pushed through social media.

Curry reported that over the two weekends — one of which was dampened by gray, wet weather — attendance reached nearly 500.

Photos from the event don't show massive crowds flocking to the scene. Curry noted in an email to the Spotlight, however, that the event was not intended to draw large crowds.

"This isn't an event about crowds, it's exactly the opposite. It's about spreading out people so there are no lines and enjoying quality time with your family. We hope people never have to wait in a line," Curry stated in email.

Still, some on social media complained about non-family friendly ticket prices, which were listed between $10 and $55, and a handful of attendee reviews indicate promoted fairy festival actractions fell short of expectations.

"If I hadn't bought tickets ahead of time and just showed up, I would have turned around. Nothing to do," one Facebook user posted. "I really want to support local events and I want this to succeed, but $15 is ridiculous for what was on offer. I feel like I put more effort into my costume than the organizers put into this festival."

But some participating business owners enjoyed the two-weekend festival. Mitzi Ponce, owner of 2Cs Vendor Mall, had a fairy door located in her shop, allowing event-goers who stopped by to experience something that aligned with the city-organized festival. Visitors who find the fairy door can leave small gifts like buttons and beads, or leave notes for the mythical fairies. Other businesses in town, like Dockside Steak and Pasta, and the Columbia Theater, had similar doors.

Walsh boasted that it is those efforts from businesses to take part in the spirit of the event that make it successful. Ponce said she saw an uptick in business, and said customers will return weeks or months after an event to check out the shop.

Walsh said planned activities like the fairy festival are part of a wider effort by the city to create an image of a vibrant and active waterfront property as the city progresses with establishing development proposals and contracts for the city's vacant waterfront land.

"The purpose is really to invigorate and activate the waterfront and draw attention to small business and highlight it for the potential investors," Walsh explained. "We're trying to create energy and attention on the waterfront."

Ponce agreed that city events are vital to the livability of St. Helens. As major businesses and manufacturers have left town, developers and investors need to see viability and activity somewhere before they decide to invest in it, she explained. Events that prompt people to be active on the waterfront help that effort.

Not all business owners, however, were thrilled with the fairy festival's turnout or communication from its organizers.

Patricia Forbes, owner of Artifacts: A Tinker's Marketplace, organized a petition in opposition to the Styrofoam Stonehenge structure. The large Styrofoam structure was originally acquired by the city for Spirit of Halloweentown festivities, and was then set up on the waterfront as a focal point for the fairy festival.

Forbes collected 150 signatures opposing the decor, which she submitted to the city in mid-May. In her view, the structure draws more questions and complaints from customers than compliments, ultimately detracting from her business.

"We have lost so much time in our personal businesses explaining to our customers what the hell is going on over there, nobody is buying anything," Forbes said. "It's a total distraction."

She also noted that if all businesses aren't benefiting from the events, it's difficult to call it a success.

"If one business made money over all the businesses in St. Helens, that's not a successful event," Forbes added.

Forbes is also concerned about when the decor for the event will be removed from the waterfront. During a merchants meeting in late March, Curry noted to business owners that the decorations would be erected for a finite amount of time. Curry repeated the same sentiment during a City Council meeting in April, stating that after the May 6 event the pieces would come down.

As of May 24, the props hadn't been touched.

The decor used in the Festival of Fairies, which has been unused since May 6, still sits on the gravelly waterfront property the city of St. Helens owns.

Conversations about what happens next have left some with more questions than answers, including when the items will be cleared out.

Last week, Curry approached the St. Helens City Council with a proposal to host another fairy festival in July. On Wednesday this week, she confirmed a July 4 event would not be planned after mixed reaction was garnered from the City Council, but a fairy festival is tentatively planned for September.

Festival of the Fairies finances

Funding for the fairy festival originated from the city's tourism fund, which is made up of hotel transient room fee payments. The 2017-18 fiscal year budget allocates a total $25,000 for events that fall under the category of "general events." Major city events, like Spirit of Halloweentown, Fourth of July fireworks and 13 Nights on the River, have their own line item budget allocations.

As of May 23, reported expenses for the Fairy Festival were $2,213.

An itemized breakdown primarily outlines monies paid for fill sand and general materials to hardware stores. The reported expenses do not, however, account for other décor purchased for the fairy festival, including a large metal tree sculpture and other pieces that adorned the waterfront.

City Administrator John Walsh explained that Tina Curry, the city's contracted events coordinator, developed contracts through her event planning company, E2C Productions, to work with various artists to create the pieces. Dollar amounts for those items were not disclosed. Walsh explained that the metallic tree sculpture will also be used during the city's Spirit of Halloweentown festivities in the fall, and said it's possible some of the expense will be rolled into that fund.

Ticket sales for the fairy festival were $1,659 as of May 23. It's difficult to determine, however, how much was collected in event sponsorship. Matt Brown, the city's finance director, explained that general sponsorships are paid to the city and go into a sponsorship fund. If a sponsor is paying for a specific event, it is marked on the budget. Records do not show any financial contributions from sponsors for the Festival of the Fairies.

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