Savin Rock Festival future rests with private take-over
The first Shoreline Festival is now history, and it is an open question as to whether organizers were successful enough to plan a reprise for next year. We tend to doubt it. Based on anecdotal evidence, those involved in the festival were disappointed by the turnout, which was below their expectations as low as they were.
The Shoreline Festival was organized by Marenna Amusements, particularly owner George Marenna, who provided the rides and booths for the Savin Rock Festival over most of its 38-year run. It must be remembered the Savin Rock Festival was canceled by Mayor Nancy Rossi earlier this year as part of the city’s attempt to pare down expenses.
The Savin Rock Festival cost the city in police and Public Works overtime due to the clean-up and other work that had to be done for the weeklong event. Given the city’s need to lop $3 million from its expense side at the behest of the Municipal Accountability Review Board, things considered extravagances, like the festival, were eliminated.
One vendor involved in the Shoreline Festival lamented the small crowds, and attributed them to the lack of musical acts and other performances that brought thousands of people down to the shore. Over the years, the Savin Rock Festival’s concerts brought as many as 100,000 to the Old Grove Park and its surrounding area.
The cancelation of the Festival and replacement by Marenna’s Shoreline Festival did not allow for the booking of performers, nor was there an ability to pay the residuals or other incurred expenses necessary to schedule acts. Marenna himself described the replacement event as more of a “fair” atmosphere.
Marenna and his vendors paid for the necessary permits as well as those expenses accrued in security and other associated costs. The city had no expenses of its own.
When it was originally proposed in 1982, the Savin Rock Festival was a town event, celebrating the history of the community as a resort area as well as its many civic, fraternal and political organizations. It marked what made West Haven unique.
It was shepherded through its first years by a committee of the West Haven Chamber of Commerce, under the guidance of the late Mary and John Perrone. Indeed, the Perrones and several others were intent on making those initial festivals popular and important to the community. They succeeded. Within the first five years, the scope and popularity of the event marked it out as an important week in the life of the city.
When the Fitzgerald Athletic Complex went under construction in 1989, the festival was almost lost. The city ordinance against over-the-counter sales, used to close the famed “Restaurant Row” at Savin Rock prior to urban renewal, precluded use of the Old Grove for the festival, it was thought. It took much negotiation and agreement by the seven developers around the park to allow the use.
The Chamber of Commerce kept control of the festival until the 1990s, when it was decided it would become a city event with a new organizing committee. The time has come to return the festival back to the private sector. We disagreed with the decision when it was made almost 20 years ago, and believe time has proven our then-stated misgivings correct: it would be subject to the vagaries of city structures, including its tenuous financial situation.
A committee of interested parties representing business and commerce, private individuals, organizations and even education should be reinstituted to bring back the festival and raise funds for its continuation. That was the history of the event’s origination, and that is where it should return.
The West Haven Chamber of Commerce might, once again, take the lead in bringing about the renaissance of the festival. The Chamber has raised its profile over the last few years under current Executive Director Alan Olenick (also a part-owner of this publication). A large-scale undertaking might be something the Chamber could steer.
The Savin Rock Festival – or rather, the loss of the Savin Rock Festival – has left a vacuum in the city’s summer events. This is the year we have seen no concerts on the Green or Grove, and no festival.
The SRF as it was originally proposed was a celebration of West Haven by West Haven. It celebrated our people and our community. A return to the roots of the event is the way to preserve it for future generations. We urge the Chamber and other organizations in the city to contemplate taking over the event, once again. Separated from City Hall’s problems, the festival could return to what it was, and what it could be.