Organizers of special events are calling on the City of Long Beach to conduct an economic study to analyze the revenue generated around town during large annual events, after the city proposed raising the price of permits and fees for special events to fill a budget gap.
The city hosted a public hearing on June 19 at which residents criticized the proposal. They included the organizers of some of Long Beach’s largest annual gatherings: the Super Bowl Polar Bears Splash co-founder Pete Meyers; members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 17, who organize the Saint Brendan the Navigator Irish Heritage Day Parade and Festival; and Michelle O’Neill Volleyball Tournament founder Carol O’Neill.
“If they put a fee on us, we won’t be able to run the festival,” said Greg Schmalenberger, vice president of the AOH, adding that, regardless, the parade would still go on.
Schmalenberger called for the city to conduct an economic study with the New York State Regional Economic Development Council “to examine the revenue that’s brought to the city for all these events annually.”
“We want to work with the city — that’s our main thing,” he said. “We’re a nonprofit organization that makes money to give away money. We collect money to give it away. We have to look into the economic value.”
If approved by the City Council, the permit-and-fee measure would require event organizers to pay the city’s anticipated expenses, such as police overtime, before the event. City officials would calculate the expected cost, Corporation Counsel Rob Agostisi explained at the hearing, and would refund organizers if they were charged too much or issue them an invoice if they were charged too little.
Additionally, the price of an event permit would rise from $120 to $250, Agostisi said at the hearing.
The proposal to require organizers to cover such expenses was discussed in May, when officials suggested ways to fill a $4.5 million gap in the city’s budget. The council approved a $95 million budget that included an 8.3 percent tax increase to help fill the gap.
The city pays about $400,000 each year in employee overtime, officials said, when it hosts special events.
“We get that the city is in a little bit of a hardship,” Meyers said. “We’re just hoping that when they come up with a number, it’s reasonable, and that they take into account that these events are important for our community, and it makes us unique.”
Meyers emphasized that he wanted to work with the city on the matter, and appreciated its support in previous years. Nonetheless, he said, if fees and expenses rose, “We would have to give less money to the Make-A-Wish Foundation,” which the Polar Bears Splash benefits. “You’re not taking any money away from us — you’re taking money away from a charity that helps kids with life-threatening illnesses. And these wishes are really life-changing for some families.”
The Super Bowl Sunday swim and Irish Day attract tens of thousands of out-of-towners who patronize local businesses during the quiet, cold months when business is otherwise slow. “There is an economic benefit to our event,” Meyers said. “And we just hope that they take into consideration the amount of goodwill that’s generated from our event, which is hard to quantify.”
Many residents say that special events add character to Long Beach, and that the city’s social atmosphere would change if their hosts could not afford to put them on. “Everyone has a great time when they come here — there’s a sense of community,” Schmalenberger said. “You take away the special events, you take away the sense of this community and pride.”
At the June hearing, city officials said that a second public hearing would be scheduled for Aug. 21. As of press time on Wednesday, the follow-up hearing had not been finalized.
“I just hope that they work with us and make the cost within reason, and try to schedule people so there’s no overtime, if possible,” Meyers said.
City officials said they had not been notified about a request for an economic study. City Council members did not immediately respond to a request for comment.