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Tall Ships festival brought a golden cargo to blowout weekend

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Cathy Dobson

What’s better than a Tall Ships Festival that attracts 10,000 people to Sarnia? A Tall Ships Festival that also earned $80,000 for city coffers.

A highly successful weekend that brought six majestic ships to the city’s waterfront for three days in August also brought big benefits to local business, hotels, Bluewater Borderfest and Artzscape by the Bay.

The event required a $500,000 budget and nearly 500 volunteers, made possible by a long list of local industry, business, labour, and government, was recognized last week at City Council by parks and rec director Rob Harwood.

“We are truly fortunate to live in such a caring and collaborative community,” Harwood wrote in a report to council. More than 40 businesses and unions contributed money or in-kind support.

The $80,000 in revenue has been deposited in a municipal waterfront reserve account for future events and waterfront improvements.

Council also received a glowing report from Anne Bailly of the Bluenose II, of the tall ships. She said 8,200 people crossed the ship’s deck and almost 4,000 experienced its mobile exhibit.

“We were blown away by the numbers we had in Sarnia,” Bailly wrote.  “…We sold out of our hats and T-shirts and set the season record for total merchandise sold.”

The Bluenose II crew felt “truly welcomed” and festival volunteers and organizers went above and beyond, she added.

“You executed a very well-run festival.”

The report was accepted after a word of thanks to staff from Coun. Bill Dennis.

“You can’t say enough good stuff about it,” he said.

The tall ships were joined at the waterfront by two established summer events — Artzscape by the Bay and Bluewater Borderfest.

Artzscape nearly doubled its usual attendance with about 14,000 at this year’s show in Centennial Park. More than $40,000 was raised for Pathways Health Centre for Children, according to organizer Sandi Grimshaw.

And Bluewater Borderfest capitalized on the tall ships in Sarnia Harbour by extending the music festival to four from three nights.

Borderfest attendance edged up slightly from other years, said spokesman Mark Perrin, who played a key role in the weekend as general manager of Tourism Sarnia-Lambton.

“Overall, we were very happy with Borderfest’s numbers,” he said.  “And our vendors were extremely happy.” Attendance at earlier Borderfests was about 7,000 and it grew to 7,500 this year, Perrin said.

The modest increase reflects lower-than-expected attendance on the Sunday night.

“Day visitors to the ships on Sunday didn’t necessarily stay the night,” Perrin said.  “But Sarnia needed a musical component to bid for the tall ships and we were it.

“I consider Borderfest a success this year because more people were exposed to it and it was a great collaboration.”

Perrin said the music festival will return next summer although it has not turned a profit yet.  “But we’re on track financially,” he added.  “We have always thought it will be year five before we’re out of the red.”

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