For the political leaders of Riverhead, a municipality stuck with an unfortunate image as The Little Town That Couldn’t, it was impossible to resist the opportunity to host two giant rock festivals in June and August. So they didn’t resist. Now all Long Island should hope that these outdoor music events turn out to be a cultural and economic development dream come true, and not merely a traffic nightmare, or worse, a disappearing mirage.
There’s little question about the appeal of the acts. Field Day Music Festival, with music on June 7 and 8, features favorites such as Radiohead and the Beastie Boys. Bonnaroo NE 2003, with performances Aug. 8 to 10, will include The Dead, Bob Dylan and many others. Together, they could draw over 100,000.
The good news is that the crowds may increase the town’s visibility and perhaps direct attention to its property at the former Grumman facility at Calverton, the site of the festivals. The town has sold the nearly 500-acre core, which leaves 2,400 acres to be sold. If the festivals provide exposure that later leads to advantageous sales of the remaining acreage, that alone would make them worthwhile.
The bad news is that large crowds of fans, on top of normally heavy traffic, could create monumental gridlock. Both promoters have hired experienced consultants to ease the crush. Also, both festivals will allow campers to start arriving the day before the music starts, which should spread out the flow of cars. Still, the traffic is likely to be difficult at best.
The greatest problem is this: With the first concert less than two weeks away, the town has yet to receive the necessary permit from Suffolk County. That won’t happen without an intermunicipal agreement, allowing Suffolk police to supplement the town’s tiny force. The promoters will pay the bill for this policing, but they can’t cut the check until the two governments reach agreement. That requires action by the town board and the county legislature, but the legislature is not scheduled to meet again until after the June event. Riverhead signed the contract for the June event on Feb. 20. So it should have moved the permit process much farther along by now.
Meanwhile, both promoters have been selling tickets for the events. The county won’t rule out the possibility that the two governments won’t be able to complete all the details in time for the June permit to be issued. If that happens, thousands of angry ticket-holders won’t remember the word Riverhead fondly.
The town already has a reputation for inability to get its act together, and this hasn’t helped its image. It didn’t adequately anticipate the bureaucratic hurdles and coordinate with other agencies quickly enough. Nor did it pay sufficient attention to environmental concerns, such as potential damage to migratory birds. So now it faces a new hurdle: a lawsuit by the Long Island Pine Barrens Society.
Some officials would like to see the concerts go away, but that’s too harsh. If they can be put together right, they might very well provide a long-term cultural and economic benefit to the region. But first, Riverhead must work hard, and quickly, to get the permit that it needs. Let it become The Little Town That Could.
(thanks to Danny)