Although Gulfport city council gave the Association of Professional Volleyball Professionals (AVP) an almost-unanimous thumbs up (Ward Three Councilwoman Jennifer Salmon cast the dissenting vote) for a prequalifying tournament on Gulfport's beach, two local business groups – the Gulfport Merchant's Association and the Gulfport Area of Chamber of Commerce – cried foul at Tuesday night's meeting.
Vice Mayor Dan Liedtke suggested the event, which will take place September 7 and 8.
Included in the $11,500 price tag will be a new, permanent volleyball court. The city's agreement to foot the bill concerned some people who criticize the city for subsidizing too many events.
"We spent almost $100,000 last year in advertising and promotion and put it back into Gulfport, and we're constantly getting criticized for the perception that we're using city funds for events," McCue pointed out.
City Manager Jim O'Reilly says he AVP will reimburse the city if it fills its registration of 64 teams, adding that he will not use TIF funds – funds earmarked specifically for downtown – to subsidize this event.
While Ward Three Councilwoman Jennifer Salmon pointed out that the city was paying for a promoter, the city manager said the city paid the promoter fee because he would not allow the promoter, Mario Farias, to bring in outside food vendors.
"I thought it was in the best interest of the community to pay the promoter the money he would have made from renting space to food vendors so the local businesses could benefit from the event instead," City Manager Jim O'Reilly said.
The promoter will still have volleyball-related dry good vendor and the city will allow the sale of beer in conjunction with So49.
On behalf of the Gulfport Merchants Association (GMA) and Chamber of Commerce, Lori Rosso and Owen Pach spoke out against the chamber and GMA's exclusion in the process. Rosso serves as president of the chamber and secretary of the GMA; Pach serves as vice president of the GMA.
GMA president Mike McCue told the Gabber the issues arise from how the city handled the event planning rather than the event itself.
"The volleyball is not the issue; there's no question that this volleyball thing is good," McCue said Wednesday morning.
At the meeting Tuesday night, the two business guild representatives protested So49 involvement. So49, a business organization geared towards promoting 49th Street South, will promote the event and keep all proceeds from beer sales. The GMA has a stated focus on Gulfport's downtown area.
"It seemed weird that So49 is benefitting," McCue said, but stressed that it wasn't a matter of competition, just that the mission statements of the two organization appeared to outline areas in which each would focus and this event seemed to stray from those areas. "There is no competition."
McCue says, too, that the appearance of the event at what he perceived as the last minute made it seem "like the city was sliding it in" when Mayor Sam Henderson and City Manager Jim O'Reilly told the GMA last month it wanted no more events.
"We were blindsided when we saw the city manager's report," he said.
The vice mayor expressed optimism for between 2,000 and 3,000 attendees over the weekend and the Ward Two Councilwoman who represents the downtown voters, Christine Brown said while she heard and believed the concerns Pach and Rosso expressed, she thought the tournament offered "a great opportunity" for future events.
"Do you need any other support?" she asked, offering CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) assistance.
Mayor Sam Henderson expressed displeasure at the process but endorsed the event.
"I, too, am not happy with the process. I do think this is going to be a really good event," he said. He later suggested that So49, the chamber and the GMA all have representatives involved in event planning with the city.
"I want to suggest that moving forward... that when we do this," Mayor Henderson said, "that it might be good to have one member who is a representative of each of the boards."