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Published: Monday, 7/21/2003

Attendance figures didn't swell, but ships made deep impression


The president and the guitar player agree. Though attendance was only about half of that expected, the Huntington Tall Ships Festival was an event to sing about, and will be missed.

Of the 17 ships that showed up for the festival, three departed yesterday, and the rest will be heading for the horizon today.

“For me, the best moment was watching the Cherry Street bridge open and the ships sail through. Now that it's done, I feel complete,” said Walter Edelen, president of International Park of Greater Toledo, Inc., whose board coordinated the event.

Musician Pat Dailey, whose Friday performance drew a large crowd to the event, said the best moments for him were random, and unexpected.

“Sitting at a table by the water, looking up and seeing one of those ships unexpectedly sail by - it lifts the heart,” Mr. Dailey said.

Despite perfect weather conditions, attendance wasn't near what was predicted - officials estimate ticket sales at somewhere around 40,000 to 50,000 for the four-day event, less than the 100,000 expected.

But not counted in that total were the thousands of bystanders that did not pay the $15 admission fee, but were able to watch the ships from afar.

“It was beautiful - well worth the trip,” said Ray Kramer, 51, who drove from St. Marys, Ohio, to see the ships.

“Overall, we were very satisfied,” said Pam Shriver, 37, of Columbus before her 8-year-old son, Jacob, chipped in - “It was really cool!”

Event organizers are hoping to break even for the event: The original $400,000 budget called for 60,000 attendees, which would have generated an estimated $300,000 in profit.

Even though fewer people attended than expected, officials said a profit was still possible.

Sightseers tour The Mist of Avalon on the last day of the Tall Ships of Toledo event. Sightseers tour The Mist of Avalon on the last day of the Tall Ships of Toledo event.

“We're still hoping to make something,” Mr. Edelen said.

Half the cost of the event was covered by a grant from the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, and funding will be additionally offset by parking fees, vendor fees, and contributions from sponsors.

But some vendors were hoping for more.

“There was definitely more promise than what was delivered,” said Al Mellinger, who managed three food tents at the festival.

“Next time, we should take a realistic look at attendance, and not have quite as many vendors, to make it worth their while,” Mr. Mellinger said.

Other vendors were happy with business.

“We had great sales - much better than we expected,” said Jennifer Young-Bower, co-owner of Benchmark Prints in Fremont, whose booth sold T-shirts.

“Still, we spent a lot of our profits here in Toledo,” Ms. Young-Bower added. “We ate at three restaurants - expensive, but worth it.”

In part because of the high-profile security presence at the event - 140 security personnel were assigned, in all - there were no major incidents, said security coordinator Philip Coutire.

“One Australian sailor I gave a ride to said, `You have as many officers as you have people,'” Mr. Coutire said.

On a down note, perhaps the greatest debacle of the event was the live music.

The main stage - in an isolated corner of the park's hot asphalt parking lot - was blocked from view by beer tents and trucks.

In addition, the beer tents were so far away that people had to choose between the music or the beer.

“It caused people to make a tough decision,” Mr. Dailey said.

Mr. Dailey's Friday-night performance drew crowd of 600 - “my kind of people,” Mr. Dailey said.

Other performers rarely drew more than 50 spectators, said Bob Wuest, chairman of entertainment.

Area hotels saw a swell in business - quadruple the “walk-in” rate they usually see - and restaurants at the Docks reported double normal sales during the period.

“We may run out of burgers,” said Ty Szumigala, vice president of operations for Cousino's restaurants at the Docks.

“But more than anything, we're short of energy. It was great, but we're glad it's over.”

The event was an Ohio Bicentennial Commission Signature Event, one of a handful at major cities across the state that the state helped bankroll.

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