As New London summer events take shape, Sailfest costs studied

People enjoy the aromas and flavors of the New London Food Truck Festival at Waterfront Park in New London on Aug. 15, 2015. The city's two food truck festivals are scheduled to return this year, one of which will include a bacon theme. (Tim Cook/The Day)
People enjoy the aromas and flavors of the New London Food Truck Festival at Waterfront Park in New London on Aug. 15, 2015. The city's two food truck festivals are scheduled to return this year, one of which will include a bacon theme. (Tim Cook/The Day)

New London — Bacon is expected to be a central theme in one of the series of events being planned for the city’s waterfront this summer.

The City Council last month renewed a contract with event planner Barbara Neff, owner of New London-based Neff Productions, for a slate of six events that run from July through October.

Central to her plan is the return of two popular food truck festivals, events that have grown each year, attracted thousands of people and are profitable. Neff said each of the vendors participating in the June event, in an appetizing twist, will have some sort of bacon item on their menu.

Neff’s contract with the city is for $24,000 to run the events. It has been approved at the same cost by the City Council for the past nine years.

The city contributes $10,000, down from the $20,000 it had funded in the past, for event expenses. The money is combined with any profits from the previous year’s events. Income from the 2017 events was $8,496, giving Neff $18,496 to work with for this year. The food truck festivals, at a cost of $2,260, brought in $8,000 last year.

Changes this year will include a reimagining of what was called Caribbean Night and the end of New London’s Best BBQ Chef Competition, an event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society that had brought in cooks from many nearby states for the past five years.

While she loved the barbecue event, Neff said it was the most expensive to host at nearly $10,000 and it wasn’t drawing the kinds of crowds that other events might. She said part of the issue was that most of the teams were not certified by the local health department and therefore not able to serve even samples of food to event-goers.

There is also competition from a barbecue event at the local casino and an incident in 2016 in which meat was stolen from competitors’ tents on the waterfront, she said.

Neff said her evaluation process for the events boils down to whether she’s spending “the right amount of money to get the right amount of people.”

A replacement event still is in the works but Neff said she envisions barbecue and blues music. Remaining in the lineup of events is the family-friendly Nimble Arts Circus and Halloween Town.

Neff, ubiquitous when it comes to festivals in New London, also runs the city-sponsored Sailfest in conjunction with the Downtown New London Association. It’s the city’s largest annual event and has come under some scrutiny in recent years as the city looks to shave expenses.

Former City Council Chairwoman Erica Richardson in 2016 had taken the lead in questioning whether the city should be funding an event from which it is not benefitting financially. Richardson, who has since moved out of state, had at one point called for a policy change to shift the cost to private sponsors and the Downtown New London Association.

The City Council’s Economic Development Committee this year brought in city department heads to not only monitor Sailfest expenses from each department but also question whether dropping at least one day from the three-day event might lead to any significant savings.

Council President Pro Tempore Don Venditto said at a recent meeting that the revised cost to the city for Sailfest was $181,456 in 2016 and $154,736 in 2017. He said that, in an effort to be "fiscally prudent," the council has an obligation to look for further cost savings this year.

Neff said she has not been directed by the city to cut a day off this year’s Sailfest, the planning for which is underway. She said that the Downtown New London Association is contracting for an economic impact study of this year's event.

g.smith@theday.com

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