Greenport ‘did better than break even’ with Tall Ships

PETER BOODY PHOTO | The Tall Ships in Greenport Harbor from an aerial view Sunday.

Asked if he could finally relax a little bit with the first day of the Tall Ships Challenge 2012 behind him Saturday night, Greenport Mayor David Nyce paused for a moment.

If the skies were clear again Sunday, if lots of people came pouring into village businesses that day and if no more snafus popped up, he estimated that he might finally be able to feel a sense of relief come Sunday afternoon.

His projection was off — by 48 hours.

It was Tuesday afternoon when the mayor was finally able to settle in and digest the fact that the biggest party he’d ever thrown was not just well-attended, it was a success in many ways for the Village of Greenport, even financially.

“We definitely did better than break even,” Mr. Nyce said of the three-day event, which cost the village an estimated $190,000.

While the mayor said the village plans to release a complete accounting of the Tall Ships Challenge at a board meeting next month, he said early projections show that as many as 60,000 people roamed the streets between Saturday morning and Monday night.
The streets were so crowded Sunday afternoon many locals say it’s the busiest they’ve ever seen the village, the mayor said.

Village officials are not expected to know exactly how many tickets were sold for the event until the end of this week at the earliest.

And even then, that number won’t accurately reflect just how many people came to the village this Memorial Day weekend.

Tickets allowed visitors to tour the ships, but a ticket was not required to walk village streets, listen to the bands playing on two stages or visit any of the vendor booths. Mr. Nyce said that for every person who bought a ticket, he estimates three more people attended the festival.

Using that formula and whatever information he had available by Tuesday afternoon, the mayor was willing to call the weekend a financial success, even if he stopped short of giving actual revenue estimates.

He did say tall ships ended up costing the village approximately $190,000, about $15,000 above the initial budget. Of that money, $130,000 went toward appearance fees for the ships.

This was the first time the village charged for admission to a Tall Ships Challenge. In 2004, when the tour last visited, the village was awarded a state grant that helped offset the cost of ship appearance fees. But that grant came through the now-defunct “I Love New York” tourism marketing program.

Tickets to this year’s event cost as much as $15 for adults, a fee that allowed visitors to tour the ships. Sailaway excursions throughout the weekend on the tall ship Roseway cost $50.

Although he feels confident the village more than broke even, the mayor said he’s waiting to receive revenue-sharing payments from the Roseway excursions and the Long Island Rail Road, which offered ticket bundles to commuters, before he can fully realize just how much money the village made. The village is also awaiting payment from a handful of sponsors.

In all, seven tall ships made it to Greenport this year, with many arriving in Orient Harbor Thursday afternoon and all of them reaching the Greenport docks by Friday morning. They departed Monday and Tuesday.

The Tall Ships Challenge 2012 tour, which began earlier this month in Savannah, Ga., continues on to Newport, R.I., and will finish in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

One major reason behind bringing in the ships was to provide a boost for village businesses at the start of a busy season.

Aldo Maiorana of Aldo’s coffee shop on Front Street said the many visitors kept him on his feet all weekend long.

“I was at my espresso machine all day on Saturday for maybe 10 hours,” he said. “Sunday was like murder and my body was in pain at the end of the day, so it was good.”

Monica Smith, assistant manager at Creations By Lisa on Main Street, said the store was the perfect kind of busy.

“It probably wasn’t as crazy as we’d imagined it would be, but it was good,” she said. “It was a good crazy.”

Local business owners and their staffs said the event brought new faces to their stores, while a lot of local regulars shopped outside the village to avoid the crowds, creating a ripple effect of good business to the surrounding communities.

Bill Fish, the head pro at Island’s End golf course outside Greenport Village, said the locals who scheduled tee times on the always busy holiday weekend told him they were doing their best to avoid the crowded village.

George Giannaris at the nearby Hellenic Snack Bar in East Marion said it was perhaps the busiest Memorial Day weekend his restaurant has seen in 36 years. He estimated his staff served as many as 3,000 meals to a mix of locals, regulars and out-of-towners.

“It was the triple crown [of visitors] and we reaped the benefits,” he said. “Without tall ships it still might have been a busy Memorial Day weekend, but that definitely sent us over the edge.”

Considering the heavy crowds, village and police officials believe the number of snags that occurred over the weekend was minimal.

Perhaps the biggest hiccup came when an eastbound Long Island Rail Road train couldn’t unload in Greenport Saturday afternoon due to cars parking too close to a pocket track used when multiple train cars are in service at the station. This led to Southold Town Police being called in to assist, as many passengers who boarded from Riverhead, Mattituck and Southold to avoid traffic were stranded for more than an hour. The train was added specially to accommodate tall ships visitors from the East End.

The parking problem also led to one train from Riverhead being canceled — passengers were instead driven in buses — and delays of more than an hour on the 1 and 2 p.m. trains departing Greenport Saturday. The cars that parked too close to the track weren’t cleared until after 4 p.m.

Southold Town Police announced three arrests in the village over the course of tall ships weekend — two alcohol related arrests and another for a fight in which a 42-year-old Medford man threw a glass plate at a Nassau County man inside Claudio’s restaurant.

Mr. Nyce said that police and other emergency officials told him it was actually the calmest they’d ever seen the village during a major event, something he believes can be largely attributed to the family-oriented nature of the Tall Ships Challenge.

The mayor said that in the days since the event, he’s heard almost entirely positive feedback.

“There’s always going to be a couple people with complaints,” he said. “But in this instance it’s just that — a couple of people.

“Everyone really seemed happy. They were calm, polite and they spent money. It was a great way to showcase the village, and that’s exactly what we set out to do.”

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