JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A battle is brewing between the city of Jacksonville and the organizers of the Southeast U.S. Boat Show after coordinators for the 21st annual event were shut out of Metropolitan Park on Monday -- the day they thought they were supposed to start setting up.
Jimmy Hill, president of Current Productions and one of the organizers of the event, said Monday was supposed to be move-in day for the Boat Show, but when organizers arrived, they found they were locked out.
He said they'll have to cancel the show, which could mean hundreds of millions of dollars lost for the city.
“It's devastating to the marine industry. For the people who work in the industry, it's an economic hit that's going to cause long-reaching effects, and it's going to last some time, and for my company it's devastating,” Hill said. “For many years, we've been the biggest economic provider for the Metro Park trust fund. But on top of that, the city is going to lose literally millions and millions and millions of dollars in revenue directly from the event -- our economic impact from the event: the travelers, the hotels, the boat sales. It's in the hundreds of millions. It's not small. It's magnificent.”
Hill said he's been putting the show on for 20 years and 10,000 to 20,000 people come each year.
The Oyster Jam music festival scheduled for this weekend at Metro Park has also been canceled.
According to the city, organizers of the Boat Show owed money from last year and were late on payments.
They settled the debt in January, but by then the organizers for Welcome to Rockville, which is set for the following weekend, had already reserved the venue to set up.
“Nothing has happened even remotely like this,” Hill said.
City leaders said that because the city never signed a contract with the Boat Show for the 2017 event, they left it up to the show's organizers to negotiate terms with Welcome to Rockville organizers to have the event this weekend, but the groups never came to an agreement.
Hill told News4Jax that he has not been able to connect with the Rockville organizers but that the Boat Show would agree to any terms they set out.
The boating community has reacted to the show's cancelation with outrage, but many are saying they hope the show can be saved.
“It's just sad to me. It's very sad,” said Lisa Almeida of the Freedom Boat Club, which was scheduled to participate in the show. “I'm not giving up. No. I'm appealing from my heart. If you are a city councilman, if you are someone, the mayor, anybody, that can make a difference, do it. Pick up the phone. It can happen. It can be fixed. Let's fix it.”
Organizers are encouraging people who want the Boat Show to happen this weekend to contact city leaders, including the mayor and City Council to express their feelings.
The director of communications for the city said that whether the show might continue this weekend is between the Boat Show organizers and Welcome to Rockville. She said the city is open to hosting the Boat Show on another weekend.
Public Affairs Director Marsha Oliver released a statement about the issue Monday:
“While we value our long-standing relationship with the Southeast US Boat Show, Current Productions had failed to make final payments to the City for their 2016 event, which did not allow them to reserve 2017 dates. For nearly a year (June 2016), the City had been in communications with Current Productions about this and offered a payment plan, alternative options, and collection attempts which resulted in a bounced check by Current Productions. We have even facilitated communications with them and Danny Wimmer Presents to determine a potential solution that would support both interests. It is my understanding that these efforts have been unsuccessful.”
Danny Hayes, CEO of Danny Wimmer Presents -- the producers of Welcome To Rockville -- also issued a comment:
“The boat show has a great legacy and is an important event in the city. We have been working with the city and the boat show to try to accommodate their needs without compromising the safety and efficiency of our schedule.”