After the Phoenicia Flea announced last week it would set up shop at the new Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center in Mount Tremper beginning Labor Day weekend, business owners on Phoenicia’s Main Street and in surrounding areas objected, telling the center’s leaders that the artisan craft and food market would siphon their weekend customer traffic if it were allowed to operate there on a regular basis.
Mounting pressure from those complainants, combined with a decision handed down from state officials regarding permitting and the amount of proceeds required to be donated by commercial enterprises using the center, have resulted in the Flea withdrawing from the CIC after this weekend’s event.
“We are being invited with open arms to communities up and down the Northeast, but we’re not welcome in our own hometown,” Phoenicia Flea founder and curator James Anthony said yesterday.
Ten days ago, Anthony firmly believed he had an agreement with the CIC to hold both the September and October versions of his monthly market on the grounds, and — presuming those two events were well-received — an invitation to return for the entire 2016 season. Anthony says the two parties had committed to a financial arrangement, as well, in which Anthony agreed to donate $1,800 worth of picnic table umbrellas to the center’s outdoor seating area, as well as 20 percent of his own revenue from each event.
But after Anthony’s announcement, complaints began to roll in from other area business owners objecting to the for-profit Flea making a regular monthly appearance at the publicly funded center, which is a partnership between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Catskills Center.
Late last week, Erik Johanson, who handles advocacy and outreach for the CIC, told Catskill Eats that there was no “official” agreement and no written contract for the Flea’s operation at the center past the September and October events.
“We don’t have any kind of signed agreement,” Johanson said late last week. “Based on how these two weekends go, we will certainly entertain discussions of hosting them again in 2016.”
While the two parties may have had different impressions of the length of their agreement, Johanson made it clear that the blowback from Phoenicia business owners after the deal went public was a significant factor in the CIC’s re-evaluating a longer-term partnership with the Flea.
“We want to be good neighbors, and if a large contingent of our neighbors are unhappy about this, we’d certainly be open to that feedback,” he said.
Pressed for details about the source of the feedback, Johanson specified the CIC board had received complaints from the owners of three individual businesses.
“They are fearful that traffic that would be going to the downtown business district will go to this event instead,” Johanson said.
Tim and Jess Luby, co-owners of the outdoor gear shop Storehouse, were one of the three parties, according to Johanson.
The Lubys did not respond to a request for a comment for this story, but both of them posted at length in a contentious argument still taking place in the “Catskills Adventure Tourism Forum” on Facebook.
“The CIC is supposed to encourage people to head out to area businesses, not create additional competition for Main Street businesses that have a hard enough time as it is,” Tim Luby wrote.
In a thread that began Aug. 25 and was still going strong at 98 comments as of this morning, supporters and detractors of the Flea debated its origins, its vendors and its authenticity as a locally sourced event.
All of that chatter became moot late yesterday afternoon, however, when CIC officials notified Anthony that a new ruling had come down from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Jeff Senterman, who was just named the Catskill Center’s new executive director, said the new terms were handed down by state officials. In an email to Catskill Eats this morning, Senterman said:
The Catskill Center operates and manages the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center through an agreement with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). The Catskill Center recently received a letter of clarification from the NYSDEC that provided further detail regarding NYSDEC permit requirements for commercial events at Interpretive Center.
In the letter, dated Aug. 27 and shared with Anthony yesterday (PDF), Natural Resources Supervisor Bill Rudge explained that the DEC would have to sign off on any for-profit events via a permit, and permit-holders would have to agree to financial terms the DEC set, which were much more stringent than Anthony’s original deal. Rudge wrote:
All net proceeds from the sale of items are to be used by the Catskill Center to support the operations of the Catskill Interpretive Center. We recognize that determining “net proceeds” is somewhat subjective. Thus, we suggest that 50% of the revenue from the sale of items at the CIC meets the definition of net proceeds for the purposes of this agreement. In cases where the event includes several vendors, each individual vendor must meet this standard.
In the email to which the letter was attached, Johanson told Anthony that the new ruling would not take effect until after Sept. 15, so the Labor Day weekend Flea is not affected. But the next scheduled event on Columbus Day weekend in October would fall under the new rules, he said, as well as all other events put on by any other organizers.
“Of course I understand this is likely a major disappointment,” Johanson wrote yesterday to Anthony. “I am very frustrated as well, as this puts serious constraints on the CIC’s ability to fundraise in the future.”
Anthony said last night that those financial terms make the Flea, along with most other types of events, financially unsustainable.
The entire situation has left CIC officials scrambling to find new events to host as fundraisers, and Johanson is actively encouraging any local businesses and organizations with ideas to come forward with proposals. Peter DiSclafani, who owns Catskill Rose Dining and Lodging in Mount Tremper and was among the business owners objecting to the Flea, said this morning that the CIC is also planning to meet with the leaders of the Phoenicia Business Association soon.