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Hampdenfest organizers learned too late of conflict

Hampdenfest organizers learned last week that the city would not be able to accommodate their event on Sept. 13.

But by then it was too late to reschedule, said organizer Benn Ray.

Ray said he’s not sure if the permit application has been turned in yet but that the festival has typically taken place on the same weekend each year since it started in 2003.

“They don’t like us to turn in our permit applications early,” he said. But “somehow or another it was on their radar” because the city contacted the festival organizers last week, to notify them of the conflict with the Star-Spangled 200 commemoration.

Caron Brace, spokesperson for the mayor, said there is no policy discouraging organizations from filing event permits early. Permit applications must be submitted at least 75 days before the event, she said, but some organizations apply eight months ahead or more.

The city reached out to Hampdenfest organizers after seeing the date on the event’s Facebook page. The city had offered Sept. 6 and 20 as alternatives.

“If the city notified us in January … then it wouldn’t be an issue,” said Ray.

The problem is that festivals require a variety of city resources — security, generators, stages, barricades and sanitation services, for example, Ray said. The Star-Spangled 200 needs those things, too, but on a huge scale, since it’s expected to draw millions to the city.

Hampdenfest organizers considered their options, he said. Sept. 6 was too soon, and on Sept. 20 many of the scheduled vendors and musical acts were booked elsewhere.

The city’s timing was an improvement, however, compared to two years ago. Less than two weeks before Hampdenfest 2012, the city said it would be unable to provide resources for both the festival and the Star-Spangled Sailabration. But City Council members helped to make sure it would get the resources it needed.

That may happen again.

Ray had originally announced that Hampdenfest would be canceled for 2014. But after City Council members Nick Mosby and Mary Pat Clarke, as well as an outpouring of local residents, expressed their interest in finding a solution, he decided to hold a meeting Wednesday to hear about some of those potential solutions.

Ray said that organizers haven’t sunk a lot of money into the 2014 festival yet — just what they used for website work and designers. But if the festival changes dates, he said, it might lose vendors, and that’s how it makes money.

Using outside sources to keep the Sept. 13 date might be possible but expensive, he said, requiring new sponsorships. Even then, Ray isn’t sure he likes the idea of a festival fueled by large corporate sponsorships.

“One of the attractions … is that it’s very much a neighborhood festival,” he said. “The festival is organized by three people. … It’s going to take a lot more than that to salvage it this year.”