By Ron Giofu
Town council has not given the go-ahead to a second event for the Aug. 28-30 weekend, one that would have been held in King’s Navy Yard Park.
An event known as “Fusion,” a blend of acoustic music, art, food and drink, was not approved by council with the elected officials merely receiving a report from administration on the subject after a debate which lasted over one hour. Event organizer Ian France was undeterred, stating he will return to council with other plans and noted he has other venues in mind.
Some of the stronger voices against the Fusion event came from the Fort Malden Guild of Arts and Crafts, which operates the Gibson Gallery. The gallery will present the 49th annual Art By The River that weekend.
David Cozens, president of the Fort Malden Guild of Arts and Crafts, said they only learned of the Fusion event Sunday and have “strong opposition” to the addition of a new event. They noted the guild is a non-profit event that has partnered with the town in the past to promote tourism and that the guild believes the new event would have a negative impact on Art By The River and the location where it is held, Fort Malden National Historic Site.
Cozens added the guild is “very disappointed” that the town’s economic development office or anyone else contacted them to get their input on another event that weekend.
“Are we not owed that courtesy?” Cozens asked.
Cozens also accused Fusion of piggybacking on Art By The River’s promotion of that weekend.
“Fusion will benefit from our extensive advertising, which will not cost them a dime,” he said.
The Fort Malden Guild of Arts and Crafts is self-sufficient, Cozens added, and do not receive money from the town.
“Do not sell us out,” he told council.
CAO John Miceli said town council was presented the Fusion proposal as a “pilot project” for council’s consideration, adding the Gibson Gallery is assisted by the town through a $1 per year lease. Cozens countered by saying the guild owns the gallery building and maintains it, with the lease for the property itself.
Lou Roth, another member of the guild’s board of directors, said “49 years of success deserves more respect.” Not being told of the possibility of another event that weekend was “disrespectful,” he believed, and said having sections of Navy Yard Park fenced off to accommodate alcohol sales would present a poor image.
“Do not allow that image to come into our town,” he said.
Councillor Diane Pouget believed administration made an error in not contacting guild officials and that she was disappointed by that. Pouget stated Navy Yard Park is “passive in nature” and that an event like Fusion would go against what the park was intended for.
“We have spent a great deal of money on the jewel of Amherstburg,” she said.
Pouget added that the parks committee, where she serves with fellow council appointee Councillor Joan Courtney, did not see the proposal.
Councillor Jason Lavigne noted he is on the recreation committee and that group didn’t see the proposal either. Lavigne believed having competing events wouldn’t work and suggested using Fort Malden National Historic Site on another weekend, noting the fort “took a huge hit” with the loss of the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival this year.
Lavigne added that he spoke with roughly 50 people on the weekend and all of them opposed having the event in Navy Yard Park.
Miceli said the bylaw reads that town council can authorize community events in Navy Yard Park. He added the dates selected were not chosen by the town, but rather by France. The CAO also showed photos of issues the Navy Yard Park faces, from uneven sidewalks to rusting light poles and unpainted railings. He believed having events in the town’s parks could create non-tax revenue needed to help maintain the parks.
Roth interjected, and said many people would likely volunteer to continue the upkeep of the park.
“We care about that park. It belongs to us,” he said. “We’re proud of that park. Just ask us. I can hold a paint brush. It’s not all about money. It’s about our park.”
Councillor Rick Fryer suggested other venues, such as the Libro Centre or Ranta Park.
“We have prime real estate right there,” he said of the latter. “I don’t know why people don’t use Ranta Park. It’s a beautiful park. It’s right on the water and no one uses it.”
Fryer added that parking issues would be one of the reasons two events at once would be difficult.
“I don’t see it beneficial for both groups,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale said previous events held the same weekend were resolved by meetings between the two groups. He believed more input from the public would be useful when looking at events in Navy Yard Park.
“Do people want this?” he asked. “We’ve got to get a clear picture of who wants what.”
“I think there was some lack of communication here,” said Courtney.
Courtney said she started reading over her agenda package Sunday and that is when she first realized the Fusion event was being proposed.
“I said, ‘I’ve never heard of this before’,” said Courtney.
Courtney was one of the members of council who thanked France for his initiative but believed it was the wrong event at the wrong time.
Councillor Leo Meloche said that based on living in Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto, “people want activity by the water.”
Meloche believed the town’s parks should be used more but believed the Fusion event should be moved to another time.
“I’m not saying have parties (in Navy Yard Park) every weekend but we should use our parks more,” he said. “I’d welcome this event on another day.”
Lavigne responded by saying “this is Amherstburg” and it shouldn’t be compared with Montreal, Quebec City or Toronto. He said it is already a tourist destination that draws people in from all over. Lavigne added that other events are “super successful” without having to use Navy Yard Park.
“I want the event but we have other facilities,” said Lavigne.
France also noted there was a lot of misinformation going around, and didn’t believe the event he proposed would conflict with Art By the River.
“I’m simply trying to bring events to town,” he said.
The Navy Yard Park would be perfect for the Fusion event and said he met with Fort Malden and Libro Centre staff already. He said there would be no bottle sales at Fusion and area restaurants would be invited to conduct off-site catering at the event.
As for the issue of communication, France said he wanted to get issues surrounding the park bylaw cleared up before he went out to Art By The River committee members or local businesses. He said he wanted to do something to benefit the town, adding that he had a chance to do the event on Bob-Lo but opted for the mainland.
“I definitely wasn’t trying to step on anyone’s toes,” said France.
Dorothy Kryworuchko Languedoc said she moved to town with husband David and they now operate two businesses that support the Fusion proposal. She said they had a vision for when they moved to town and that vision is falling by the wayside.
“This vision is very quickly falling apart,” she said. “I see infighting in this town. I see backstabbing in this town.”
She added that she has been in the park and has seen where people, including herself, were asked to get off the grass. David added more could be done in the park.
“We can do things right and with some class,” he said.
Others opposed using the park and going against Art By The River. Business owner Shirley Wigle said she gets good business during Art By The River weekend and she was “definitely against” Fusion.
Local resident Larry Amlin wanted the town to be more open to having events there.
“All I’m saying to council is don’t close your mind,” said Amlin. “Think outside the box.”
France told the media during a brief recess that he plans on approaching council soon with another plan for the event, pledging “the event will take place.” He said he would have held Fusion on the Friday and Saturday evening after Art By The River had closed for the day, and would have offered free space to artists to further promote the show.
There were cross-promotion ideas that he would have brought forward, he continued, but said he will press on with other ideas for the event in mind.