04/17/14 6:00am
Vail-Leavitt Music Hall

Vail-Leavitt Music Hall. (Credit: file photo)

To the editor:

For over a decade, Vail-Leavitt Music Hall has been dedicated to preserving Riverhead’s first landmark theater and providing educational, cultural and charitable benefits to our community. Its board is now asking you — the community we serve — for constructive input and support.  (more…)

04/13/14 3:38pm
Vail Leavitt Music Hall, Tim Bishop, Randy Altschuler, Debate

The Vail-Leavitt Music Hall on Peconic Avenue in Riverhead is modeled after the Ford Theater in Washington D.C. (Credit: Barbarellen Koch, file)

For over a decade, Vail-Leavitt Music Hall has been dedicated to preserving Riverhead’s first landmark theater and providing educational, cultural and charitable benefits to our community. Its board is now asking you — the community we serve — for constructive input and support.

(more…)

08/17/11 4:21pm

I am very proud that Vail-Leavitt Music Hall continues to serve its mission to the community. We have managed to sustain ourselves through the efforts of great bands, including Rosie Ledet & the Zydeco Playboys, Lil’ Cliff & the Cliffhangers, Who Are Those Guys, Jessie Haynes, Bruce MacDonald, the EastEnders, Thursday Night Jazz Jammers and numerous others who gave of their time and talent to assist us in fundraising events over the last 10 months. Each of them were part of the annual Blues Festival over the last few years, and we sincerely appreciate their support at this crucial time in our organization’s history. For a more complete retrospective, I encourage readers to see the array of Vail-Leavitt memorabilia on display at Riverhead Free Library during August.

Special thanks are due to our treasurer, Vince Tria. His service to the music hall has been unquestionably meritorious through the last eight-plus years [and] an integral part of the efforts that restored and operated the Vail. Over that time, Mr. Tria was recognized with awards for his exemplary volunteerism by diverse groups including local media, Chamber of Commerce and Daughters of the American Revolution. These accolades have been rivaled only by the frequency of his often unfair vilification by those who perceive him as a political opponent.

This raises the thorny subject of local politics. Over the last nine-plus years that I have been part of the Vail-Leavitt executive board, we attempted to keep the Vail neutral. Our open rental policy provided ample opportunity for all local parties to utilize the hall for fundraising and made the Vail a comfortable forum for candidate debates, public meetings and civic events. In fact, a review of our schedule history shows that up to the town’s inaugural event of 2010, politically affiliated events were split almost exactly 50-50 between the Republican and Democratic parties, in addition to a larger number of nonpartisan Town Board meetings and events.

Our path since that inaugural is well documented in public records: a hostile takeover attempt of the Blues Festival followed by smear and innuendo tactics against us. When I offered to open discussions with town leaders in January, I was rebuffed and insulted. When I inquired about alternative sites or plans, those who had refused to negotiate in good faith suddenly expressed outrage. Finally, in April, as a last resort, I applied for two event dates specifically attempting to prompt town leaders to hold some talks — any talks — with my organization. For the record: Vail-Leavitt Music Hall board did not withdraw its special event applications this year; it was intentionally bypassed by the Town Board in favor of competing Business Improvement District Management Association proposals.

If the Town Board had read those two proposals, as I did, they would have found a compromise was easily attainable. The Vail proposed using its own outdoor stage, which wouldn’t have interfered with the BID’s use of the town showmobile. Despite my attempts to initiate a meeting prior to the Town Board’s action, none was scheduled. Both events were proposed as free admission, so why was the Vail’s specifically overlooked? Neither application included food or crafts vendors, but both food and alcohol were served at the July 16 BID event, legal violations retroactively remedied by a Town Board resolution days after the event. We all know that if the Vail-Leavitt had ever served alcohol without proper advance permits in place, the response would have been swift and severe. It’s also possible there was no proper event insurance in place for either BID event, exposing taxpayers to millions in risk because of the Town Board’s lack of due diligence in reviewing the applications.

The facts are clear. Vail-Leavitt has survived the past 19 months in spite of our town leaders. Local government should act to shield and support the Vail, not attack or ostracize it. One would think a charitable and historic community venue supporting itself independently deserved better. The music hall board never interfered with or criticized the quality of events produced by others, but the reverse cannot be said. When we urged others to talk with us, we weren’t given the opportunity to speak and were simply ignored. I believe our experience and input could have helped.

There was irony to be found in the BID’s “Mardi Gras” event. In the actual New Orleans version, the parades and music events benefit the local economy and also give financial support to many charitable and community organizations. In Riverhead, the event was produced solely for the profit earned by a few select businesses. Meanwhile, town representatives neglected and alienated the town’s oldest historic performance venue, run by an all-volunteer group that gave of its meager resources for community benefit throughout the year. The BID management association eventually and grudgingly offered the Vail a small rental fee to act as an indoor venue on Aug. 6, reminiscent of the schoolyard bully who swipes a dessert cake, eats most of it, then asks if you’d like the crumbs back. They and our Town Board should be ashamed of the manner in which they continue to treat Vail-Leavitt. Arrogance has become a conspicuous cover for an inept and bullying style embodied by these so-called leaders.

My contempt for them is exceeded only by the pride in my steadfast board and our supporters for moving us forward.

Robert Barta is president of the Council for the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall Inc.

08/08/11 6:54pm

While I have not publicly commented of late, recent news reports and actions have prompted me to issue this statement.

I am very proud that the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall continues to serve its mission to the community. We have managed to sustain ourselves through the efforts of great bands, including Rosie Ledet & the Zydeco Playboys, Lil’ Cliff & the Cliffhangers, Who Are Those Guys, Jessie Haynes, Bruce MacDonald, the EastEnders Thursday Night Jazz Jammers and numerous others who gave of their time and talent to assist us in fundraising events over the last 10 months. Each of them were part of the annual Blues Festival over the last few years, and we sincerely appreciate their support at this crucial time in our organization’s history. For a more complete retrospective, I encourage readers to see the array of Vail-Leavitt memorabilia currently on display at Riverhead Free Library during the month of August.

Special thanks are due to our treasurer, Vince Tria. His service to the Music Hall has been unquestionably meritorious through the last 8-plus years serving as an integral part of the efforts that restored and operated the Vail. Over that time, Mr. Tria was recognized with awards for his exemplary volunteerism by diverse groups including local media, Chamber of Commerce and Daughters of the American Revolution. These accolades have only been rivaled by the frequency of his often unfair vilification by those who perceive him as a political opponent.

This raises the thorny subject of local politics. Over the last 9-plus years that I have been part of the Vail-Leavitt’s executive board, we attempted to keep the Vail neutral. Our open rental policy provided ample opportunity for all local parties to utilize the hall for fundraising and made the Vail a comfortable forum for candidate debates, public meetings, and civic events. In fact, a review of our schedule history shows that up to the town’s inaugural event of 2010, politically affiliated events were split almost exactly 50-50 between Republican and Democratic parties in addition to a larger number of nonpartisan Town Board meetings and events.

Our path since that inaugural is well documented in public records: a hostile takeover attempt of the Blues Festival, followed by smear and innuendo tactics against us. When I offered to open discussions with town leaders in January, I was rebuffed and insulted. When I inquired about alternative sites or plans, those who had refused to negotiate in good faith suddenly expressed outrage. Finally in April, as a last resort, I applied for two event dates specifically attempting to prompt town leaders to hold some talks — any talks — with my organization. For the record, the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall board did not withdraw its special event applications this year; they were intentionally bypassed by the Town Board in favor of competing Business Improvement District Management Association proposals.

If the Town Board had read those two proposals, as I did, they would have found a compromise was easily attainable. The Vail proposed using our own outdoor stage which wouldn’t have interfered with the BID’s use of the town showmobile. Despite my attempts to initiate a meeting prior to the Town Board’s action, none was scheduled. Both events were proposed as free admission, so why was the Vail’s specifically overlooked? Neither  application included food or crafts vendors, but both food and alcohol were served at the July 16 BID event, legal violations retroactively remedied by a Town Board resolution days after the event. We all know that if the Vail-Leavitt had ever served alcohol without proper advance permits in place, the response would have been swift and severe. It’s also possible there was no proper event insurance in place for either BID event, exposing taxpayers to millions in risk because of the Town Board’s lack of due diligence in reviewing the applications.

Recently, officials from Patchogue complimented the Music Hall at an event sponsored by the iloveriverhead group. They described how their performing arts center was supported by millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, including bonds. Our Music Hall’s restoration was almost entirely funded through grants and Tanger mitigation fees with no taxpayer costs. Our non-profit corporation maintains itself independently, whereas Patchogue village pays for all capital improvements for their theater. The support for the Suffolk Theater renovation by the BID management association and Town Board members has been noteworthy while the non-profit Vail-Leavitt has only been maligned. The Music Hall perseveres despite having our central fundraiser “replaced” by a consortium of local businessmen and politicians, and will find innovative ways to continue our mission in the faces of those who disparage us.

The facts are clear. The Vail-Leavitt has survived the past 19 months in spite of our town leaders. Local government should act to shield and support the Vail, not attack or ostracize it. One would think a charitable and historic community venue supporting itself independently deserved better. The Music Hall board never interfered with or criticized the quality of events produced by others, but the reverse cannot be said. When we urged others to talk with us, we weren’t given the opportunity to speak and were simply ignored. I believe our experience and input could have helped.

There was irony to be found in the BID’s “Mardi Gras” event. In the actual New Orleans version, the parades and music events benefit the local economy and also give financial support to many charitable and community organizations. In Riverhead, the event was produced solely for the profit earned by a few select businesses. Meanwhile, town representatives neglected and alienated the town’s oldest historic performance venue run by an all-volunteer group which gave of its meager resources for community benefit throughout the year. The BID management association eventually and grudgingly offered the Vail a small rental fee to act as an indoor venue on Aug. 6, reminiscent of the schoolyard bully who swipes a dessert cake, eats most of it, then asks if you’d like the crumbs back. They and our Town Board should be ashamed for the manner in which they continue to treat the Vail-Leavitt. Arrogance has become a conspicuous cover for an inept and bullying style embodied by these so-called “leaders.”

My contempt for them is only exceeded by the pride in my steadfast board and our supporters for moving us forward.

To all members of our community, the board of the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall once again encourages your involvement and help in any manner. We are always receptive to motivated volunteers and those with constructive suggestions. Contact us via our website at www.vail-leavitt.org or by phone at 727-5782.

Robert Barta is the president of the Council for the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall Inc.

04/27/11 2:51pm

A number of individuals publicly criticized the published financial disclosure of the 2010 Riverhead Blues & Music Festival™, specifically citing the significant amount classified as “Other Expenses.”  It was not the intent of the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall to provide less than full disclosure; however my statement was made using exactly the format which was proposed by the town supervisor’s adviser, Anthony Coates, at the supervisor’s office. Although it was in no way legally required, I provided the statement to address the ongoing attempts by BID leaders Coates and Ray Pickersgill to sully the Vail’s credibility.  For those members of the public who may still harbor concerns, here is the breakdown of “Other Expenses” for the 2010 festival:

Stage managers & Vail audio tech     $ 1,200    Tent rentals    $ 2,700
Security services (2.5 days)    6,706    Port-a-lavs rental    2,400
Main area sound system    10,800    Hotel rooms    1,830
Wristbands    566    Scholarships    500
Hospitality (Food, Ice, Etc.)    1,472    Stage lights & Equip. rental    845
Radio communicators    594    Signage    323
Merchandising commissions    1,000

TOTAL OTHER EXPENSES    $ 30,396

The point of making the fiscal disclosure and prior announcement was to inform the public of the rationale which led to our board’s decision not to apply for the Blues & Music Festival for 2011.  It is a plain and simple fact that additional fundraising is needed to support the Music Hall’s annual budget.  

This year the BID selected and announced a pair of dates for events in the riverfront parking area, one which was specifically proposed as a “replacement” event on the traditional festival weekend.  As the Vail-Leavitt’s board discussed these alleged plans, we realized both opportunities and threats existed.  The board began planning for in-house events which could “piggyback” on the BID’s, but it was clear from past history that we would do so in a hostile environment.

Last year, the BID openly sought to finance a proposed Chamber of Commerce takeover of the Blues & Music Festival. I refused to accept any direct funding from the BID for the festival because of my belief that the BID was demanding too central a role in an event which the Vail had invested so much. At the final meeting prior to the Chamber’s surprise application withdrawal last May 4th, I made a conciliatory offer of a share of event corporate sponsorship revenues to support the Chamber’s own scholarship and fund raising efforts. Then-Chamber president Bob Lanieri declined the offer, stating that there was inadequate advance time for such an effort.  If it was inadequate time for that single aspect, I was left wondering how he had planned to run the entire event if his application had been approved. Clearly, he was depending on the BID for far more than financial support.

This year opened with unexpected negativity when Mr. Pickersgill insulted my efforts to open a constructive dialogue. BID leaders and the supervisor insinuated that the Vail was not fulfilling an agreement to provide financial data, publicly smearing the Vail’s reputation in the process.  Ultimately, the supervisor had to grudgingly admit to the media that there was no way to force the Vail to comply with something we had never agreed to in writing, although he could not resist a thinly veiled threat of retaliation in his all-too-customary style.

Much political lip service is given to the Music Hall as a cultural jewel of our community, but the continued actions and words of the supervisor and his gang of BID allies demonstrate a persistent pattern to discredit and financially harm the Vail-Leavitt. They have taken a “rule or ruin” approach to downtown…one must either benignly comply with their bullying or risk being steamrollered. Mr. Pickersgill’s ego-driven agenda to manipulate quasi-governmental power makes him a formidable threat to anyone who dares to oppose him. Mr. Coates, meanwhile, views all his dealings as political chess where there is no room for compassion or community legacy – only a ruthless drive for personal victory no matter how low the tactical methods.

They give dark perspective to the BID’s recent catch phrase, “Can’t you just feel it?”

As my board discussed our concurrent fundraising plans, I realized the Vail could be at financial risk. The BID could change dates unexpectedly (since no Chapter 90 application had been filed) or they could prepare site plans to limit the Music Hall’s ability to participate or even be accessible to those we sought to draw inside for our needed fund raising events. I considered all these risks and this history when I directed Vince Tria to submit applications for small-scale, free events on the two dates to ensure the Vail-Leavitt’s ability to make most effective use of the opportunity and not be financially held hostage by the whims of the BID.  I then departed for a trip to New Orleans, where I made personal contact with several prospective performers about their summer schedule availability.

When I returned, I read the media accounts which emerged during my trip and began ROTFLMAO (e-mail shorthand for “rolling on the floor laughing my adenoids out”). The BID leaders have clearly demonstrated their arrogance and presumptuousness by committing tax dollars to contractual obligations when they had not even submitted the prerequisite plan and application for these events. If I made contractual agreements with bands while I was in New Orleans, it would have been with the knowledge that I had dutifully submitted my application materials for permit first.  Why should supposedly professional businessmen be excused for making premature commitments…just because they “called dibs” publicly on the dates, or to save face from lack of due diligence? Can anybody call dibs on a date this way, or just the BID?  Write this down, Ray, so you won’t forget it…don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.

Last year, the Vail-Leavitt’s event filing was threatened by the supervisor with an “unhappy outcome” as he advocated preference for a competing second application which was in clear violation of trademark property rights.  This year, the Vail-Leavitt filed for free events both as an offering to our community and a protective measure toward our own financial survival. Mr. Walter’s advocacy of this secondary application is far more emphatic than last year, and now threatens violation of due process. Apparently, the supervisor and his cohorts believe the public is too unconcerned, too preoccupied or too easily fooled to recognize the pattern of cronyism which is now inescapably conspicuous.

Clearly, the decision will be made by the very same Town Board which I invited to engage in constructive dialogue with my organization nearly five months ago. Concerned townspeople of Riverhead should observe and listen carefully to all involved parties as this situation unfolds.  Watch for announcements on our website at  http://www.vail-leavitt.org/”www.vail-leavitt.org, where you can contribute to aid our efforts or contact us directly via email or Facebook.

Finally, thanks to our community for their continuing support.

Mr. Barta is president of the council for the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, Inc.