Plan reached to serve booze outdoors at Riverhead Blues Festival

05/31/2012 5:00 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Rich Vandenburgh (right), a co-owner of Greenport Harbor Brewery, and Vincent Tria of the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall spoke with the Town Board Thursday.

Phew, that was close.

The Riverhead Town Board, Blues Festival organizers and downtown restaurant owners managed to hammer out an 11th-hour plan Thursday to allow alcohol consumption anywhere outdoors at the music festival.

The event is scheduled for June 16 and June 17 in the riverfront parking lot behind East Main Street.

Because the parking lot is public space, liquor liability insurance is required by the town in order for the Town Board to lift open alcohol restrictions, just in case someone is injured on town property and sues.

The town had sought to acquire $5 million certificates of insurance from each of the area restaurant owners — naming the town as co-insured — but the business people resisted, saying the amount was too much.

Because of this, Vincent Tria — the treasurer of Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, a nonprofit operation that runs the festival as its chief fundraiser — contacted the owners of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company to foot the bill for a $5 million policy in return for selling beer outdoors exclusively.

Instead of lifting open-alcohol laws for the entire parking lot, Supervisor Sean Walter suggested Greenport sell its beer in a specified “beer garden” area closer to the river, as to better the odds of restaurant owners cashing in on the event by serving beer inside their Main Street establishments.

Greenport co-owner Rich Vandenburgh ultimately balked at that idea, saying crowding beer drinkers into a pen behind the suggested comfort station could cause more problems than if they had space.

After much discussion at Thursday’s public Town Board work session, the board decided $2 million liquor liability insurance policies from each of the restaurants would suffice.

Those restaurant owners who do not want to participate would not be able to allow patrons to leave their establishments with beer or liquor drinks, town officials said.

“Do we have to really go along with whatever the insurance company says?” Councilman John Dunleavy had said. “I’ve been arguing that we should lower it to $2 million.”

“$5 million was unreasonable,” Tweeds restaurant owner Ed Tuccio later said in an interview. He said he would get a $2 million policy in place for the town in time for the festival.

“But I have to get a letter [from the town] stating specifically what the town wants, which I haven’t seen,” he added.

Mr. Tuccio said he had a heated exchange with Mr. Walter over the Blues Festival prior to the work session. Mr. Walter also acknowledged the two traded words.

The argument centered mainly on Mr. Tuccio’s belief that downtown business owners who pay into parking district taxes were getting shafted in favor of the Vail-Leavitt, which as a nonprofit does not pay into the district, and the Greenport brewery, which doesn’t pay any taxes in Riverhead.

Mr. Tuccio and other restaurant owners eventually agreed Thursday — some via text message to and from Business Improvement District officials — that $2 million policies each would be fine.

They were instructed to get the policies, insuring the town, to the Town Board before next Tuesday’s meeting.

“If we don’t have this by Tuesday’s board meeting” Mr. Water said, “then I’ll have a resolution rescinding the measure to allow open alcohol.”

Vic Prusinowski of Cody’s BBQ and grill said Friday that he was pleased with the Town Board’s decision and called the plan “a good compromise.”

He said he’s already got plenty of insurance in place for both is indoor and outdoor bars, so adding the town as co-insured for two days wasn’t a problem.

The Main Street restauranteurs also had to secure the proper off-site permits with the state Liquor Authority by Thursday — the same day as the work session — because the permits need to be secured 15 days before an event, officials said.

Mr. Tuccio said getting those permits is normally not a problem either.

Three Town Board members present were in favor of the insurance plan for the event, except Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who said she was undecided and would like to see the restaurant owners produce the policies before committing to the plan.

She also said the insurance issues should have been worked out months ago.

During the meeting, Ms. Giglio asked Mr. Tria why it was even necessary that Blue Festival-goers to drink beer in the parking lot.

Mr. Tria responded that “it’s historically been that people could enjoy a beer while listening to the music.”

The Blue Festival, which started over a decade ago, was not held last year after a downtown power struggled in the run-up to the 2010 event nearly cancelled the show.

No outside alcohol is allowed to the event.

“No coolers. No backpacks,” Mr. Tria told the board Thursday.

A woman sued the Vail-Leavitt after one festival, claiming a broken bottle had cut her foot, town officials said.

All alcohol in the town parking lot has to be in plastic cups, officials said.

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