BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO
Little Toby Walker on the main stage at last year’s Blues Festival in downtown Riverhead.
Call it the battle of the Blues Festival.
The Vail-Leavitt Music Hall nonprofit group filed a special permit application Monday with Riverhead Town to hold the 12th Annual Riverhead Blues and Music Festival on July 17 and 18 in the downtown riverfront parking lot.
The Riverhead Chamber of Commerce followed that up on Tuesday by also filing a special application to run the same festival.
And now, unless the groups work out a deal between them, Riverhead Town officials may have to just decide which application to approve.
“We want to do it right, it’s not about which group does it,” Chamber president Bob Lanieri told the News-Review.
Vail-Leavitt officials did not return calls seeking comment.
That group, which runs the music hall of the same name on Peconic Avenue downtown, took over the management of the annual festival three years ago, when the Business Improvement District, which had managed it for its first eight years, ran into financial problems and was unable to hold the regionally popular event. Admission to the festival was free under the BID, but the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall began charging admission when they took over the festival and used the event as a fundraiser for Vail-Leavitt.
The BID, which is a special taxing district that funds promotions and projects in downtown Riverhead, is now working with the Chamber on its application to take over the management of the festival.
Mr. Lanieri and Ray Pickersgill, the president of the BID management association, both said the Chamber filed the application because Vail-Leavitt treasurer Vince Tria had threatened to move the festival to the Eastern Campus of Suffolk Community College in Northampton.
“It’s supposed to benefit downtown,” Mr. Lanieri said, though the application filed by Vail-Leavitt on Monday clearly states that the festival would be in downtown Riverhead.
But Mr. Pickersgill also said he believes there needs to be better accounting of the money the festival makes, and promised that would happen if the Chamber took charge. When the BID managed the Blues Festival, the town eventually required them to submit an accounting of the money they made and spent on the Blues Festival. For the first seven years of the festival, the town also subsidized it, and even now the town provides in-kind services such as police, garbage pickup and operates the town showmobile.
Sources say Chamber officials had asked that Mr. Tria be removed as treasurer of the Vail-Leavitt board, and if that happened, the Chamber would in turn agree to file jointly with Vail-Leavitt. But the Vail-Leavitt application was filed on Monday afternoon, prior to the group’s Monday night meeting, which could have seen Mr. Tria removed. Mr. Tria ultimately was not removed as treasurer, the sources said.
Reached again Wednesday, Mr. Lanieri denied that account, saying the Chamber has no business deciding who Vail-Leavitt’s treasurer should be. He said he is hoping the three groups will be able to work together to produce the Blues Festival.
Town Board members said they were surprised to learn Tuesday that two applications had been filed for the Blues Festival.
“It’s between them,” Councilman John Dunleavy said. “We’re not getting involved.”
“One of them has to withdraw their application,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said.
Town officials also were unsure of what the process is for dealing with two special permit applications for the same event. They said the town attorney’s office would look into it.
WRIV 1390, the Riverhead-based radio station that Mr. Tria owns, ran a news story on Monday stating that Vail-Leavitt could take legal action if the town gives the Blues Festival to another group. Mr. Tria already has filed a notice of claim against Town Board members seeking $10 million in damages for removing him as president of the BID last month.