Pirate Fest Proceeds on Fort Myers Beach

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    Smaller Fest October 6 – 8

    For about 24 hours earlier this week, it looked like Hurricane Irma would force Fort Myers Beach’s 12th annual Pirate Fest to walk the plank of cancelation! A group of local businesses, however, shivered their timbers, and now the event will proceed. The Pirate Fest is Friday, October 6, in the Times Square area from 6 to 10 p.m.; as well as Saturday & Sunday, October 7 & 8, at various locations along Old San Carlos Boulevard from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    “Hurricane Irma significantly impacted Southwest Floridians,” said Jacki Liszak, Executive Director of the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce that sponsors the Pirate Fest, in explaining the initial decision to cancel. “Most Floridians spent a great deal of money the week leading up to Irma for hurricane preparation, expended funds for cleanup and restoration afterwards, and many basically lost two weeks of business income, so it just did not seem like many people had much disposable income right now for things like the Pirate Fest.”

    To worsen matters, the Chamber makes its Pirate Fest profit from gate admissions, so a small turnout means a big financial loss. “Attendance was my greatest concern,” admitted Jacki, “as the Chamber needs to at least cover its costs. In addition, there were logistical problems with fire and police coverage, as those departments are still in disaster recovery mode with exhausted staffs. On top of that, local hotels traditionally donate rooms for the ‘Pirate Fest,’ and it did not seem fair to hold them to that, especially the smaller ones that have already endured at least two weeks of financial loss.”

    While beach residents think of the Pirate Fest as just a local event, “the Chamber heavily markets it to the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa and St. Pete areas,” she explained, “and they were all hit hard by Irma, so we had to be honest and say we most likely would not draw many from those regions. When you first add all those factors together, it did not make sense to go forward.”

    Not The Usual Cheerleading

    Once word of the cancellation got out, however, “we received an immediate outpouring of support, with great people saying, ‘we can work this out, and this is what we can do to make this happen,’” Jacki related. “The tipping point back was when five businesses – Nervous Nellie’s, Pete’s Timeout, Shipwreck Motel, Smokin’ Oyster Brewery and Yucatan Beach Stand – stepped up, not just with the usual cheerleading, but actual ideas and solutions. By implementing these ideas, suddenly a modified ‘Pirate Fest’ was not only possible, but we cut expenses so much that the Chamber can host it without having an admission charge this year!”

    What really helped was taking the bands off the public street, Jacki said, “because this eliminates the expense of scaffolding and security, along with paying for all the Old San Carlos parking meters for those days, and the modified format avoids all that. Suddenly we did not need the fencing along Old San Carlos Boulevard, the big stage, and all the other necessities to host a huge event. By dropping these expenditures, we can do a fun ‘Pirate Fest’ in a smaller format that will be a great time for the entire family, without breaking your bankbook or that of the Chamber.”

    As for what else was cut, “We will not have the pirate ship battle,” Jacki sadly said, “because so many of the big ships require repair from Irma, along with damage to the docks. We also do not yet know how many of the distinctive professional ‘Pirates’ can attend, as many of them are Floridians who have damage to their homes and communities.”

    Most aspects, however, remain: “We have roughly 40 vendors” she offered, “but they will be in parking lots at 250, 440 and 645 Old San Carlos rather than in the street. There will be live music, but the main stage will be in the Yucatan Beach Stand parking lot. We have the staging area for children’s activities on 3rd Street and Old San Carlos, the Kid’s Fishing Contest and the Gaelic Band in Times Square on Friday and Saturday evenings. We are organizing the ‘Pirate Pub Crawl’ on Friday night, though that may just be in the Times Square area.”

    There will be leather patches for sale at all Pirate Fest bars and restaurants, at the Chamber, and on its website to provide discounts for $20. See www.fmbpiratefest.com for the full schedule as it draws near. “While we are thrilled to host a smaller ‘Pirate Fest’ this year,” concluded Jacki, “we already plan for the 2018 show to be bigger and better than ever, closing Old San Carlos from Times Square all the way down!”

     

    Gary Mooney

    Photos by Sarah List