After the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival committee announced Monday afternoon that this year’s event was off, several people began asking why it cannot be rescheduled for another weekend.
It’s not that simple.
Brianne Yontz, executive director of the Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce, explained that the event takes close to a year to plan.
“When we rent J.F. Gregory Park from the city for the weekend, we essentially take ownership of the park,” she said. “We close down the entrance Friday afternoon, which means no access to Richmond Hill City Center.”
Richmond Hill City Center, meanwhile, has contractual obligations nearly every weekend through the end of the year that it must legally meet. People who have also spent a year or more planning their wedding day are not going to cancel their reception at the facility just because of the festival.
“The national entertainment we bring in books their schedule nine to 12 months in advance,” Yontz added. “The same with the carnival for the midway. They aren’t just sitting around waiting for us to have a festival.”
The annual event is the main funding mechanism for the chamber each year, as well as the nonprofit organizations and vendors who participate.
“Our board over the years has been fiscally responsible,” Yontz said about the financial impact on the chamber. “We always knew there was a chance we would be rained out some year, but we never imaged it would be due to a category three hurricane.”
Yontz said the chamber has offered to refund booth fees to vendors.
“We’ll refund them 100 percent, or if they choose to wait they won’t pay a fee next year,” she said.
As for the nonprofit organizations that depends on the festival for funds, Yontz said she believes Richmond Hill “has a way of rallying around those who need help.”
Yontz added there were additional concerns because the festival is 100 percent volunteer driven.
“If you don’t have power or you’re dealing with a tree through your roof, you’re not going to have time to volunteer,” she said.
Tim Proffitt, chairman of the GOSF committee, said that was one of many factors.
“We made this decision with a heavy heart, but in light of the developments of Hurricane Matthew it’s the responsible thing to do,” he said.
The committee met with Richmond Hill officials Monday morning before making the decision.
“We’re more concerned with people getting their lives back to normal,” Proffitt said. “We’re fortunate everyone survived but now they need to concentrate on moving forward.”
Proffitt said there are “too many moving parts” to the event to try and reschedule it yet this year.
“We spend a year planning this,” he said. “But now we’re already looking ahead to next year for the biggest and best ever festival.”
The 2017 GOSF will be Oct. 20-22.