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Strawberry Festival carnival is canceled

By NATALIE MARTIN

A contract disagreement has resulted in the cancellation of the Strawberry Festival carnival, leading festival organizers to say it may be time to rethink the carnival’s place at Vashon’s annual celebration.

The Vashon-Maury Island Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the Strawberry Festival, announced on Monday that after several days of unsuccessful contract negotiations with the carnival company, it couldn’t reach an agreement and there will be no carnival at this weekend’s festival. The contract proposed by the  company, Paradise Amusement, was one that Chamber Director Jim Marsh said would have put the chamber at too much financial risk.

“I’m a little shell shocked,” Marsh said Monday evening, explaining his disappointment that the carnival fell through. “It was too much of a gargantuan risk to take.”

Laura Griffith, a chamber board member, said she, too, was disappointed at the turn of events days before the festival.

“I’m not a big fan of carnivals myself, but I think there needs to be something for kids because there are a lot of kids on the island,” she said, adding that she worries some families won’t be as inclined to come to the festival this year.

A representative of Paradise Amusements, Kacee Quintana, said on Monday that he was unable to comment on the contract negotiations, and other representatives of the company could not be reached. Quintana said logistical issues played into the decision to not come to the festival this year and that the company regrets not being able to put on the carnival. Normally, he said, carnival rides would have begun arriving on the island Monday evening.

That doesn’t mean we don’t want to come back,” he said. “That means that this year we can’t make it work.”

Paradise Amusements, a carnival company based in Post Falls, Idaho, brought rides and carnival games to the Strawberry Festival for at least 15 years, according to Quintana.

Last year, the chamber decided to hire a different carnival company, a decision Marsh said came after many unsuccessful attempts to get Paradise to send better rides to the festival and help plan for the carnival in a new location.

“I was looking to improve the festival, and they came with a good package,” Marsh said of the other company.

The chamber was happy with the new company’s carnival, but the company declined to return Vashon a second year, as it didn’t make enough money.

In January, Marsh said, he asked Paradise to return to the festival. This year’s carnival was to be smaller than previous years, Marsh said, and in a different location. The space behind Vashon Village, where the carnival has been for several years, is no longer available, as a contractor plans to break ground there soon on a hotel project. The chamber searched for a new location, and eventually decided to locate the carnival around and behind the Vashon Town Square business complex across the highway from Ober Park.

After months of poor communication with Paradise about this year’s event, Marsh says that on Thursday he received a contract offer for the carnival that he and the chamber board decided they couldn’t accept.

Normally, Marsh said, the chamber pays nothing to bring the carnival company to the island, and in return the company keeps most of the profit, with a small portion going to the chamber.

This year, however, Paradise asked that if it didn’t make a certain amount of money on the carnival that the chamber would make up the difference, which Marsh said would likely be thousands of dollars and could dip significantly into what the chamber makes on the festival, normally around $30,000. The company also planned to bring about half the number of rides and games as normal because of the space constraints.

“It put us at a financial risk that we were not willing to take,” Marsh said, noting that he also understands the company wants to make money. “We’re not running a festival to pay a carnival company,” he added.

Marsh said it seemed like Paradise may reconsider and he hoped they could work out a different agreement “even to the point where I had the field mowed today,” he said Monday, but by late Monday it was clear there wouldn’t be an agreement in time for the festival, and Paradise confirmed that it wouldn’t send rides to Vashon this year.

The contract disagreement highlights the chamber’s increasing struggle to set up a carnival at the Strawberry Festival. With two carnival companies unable to bring in as much money as they’d like on Vashon, Marsh said it’s also becoming increasingly difficult to find a place to locate the carnival. New construction is filling spaces around town, and business owners are unable to give over entire parking lots to the carnival.

“As real estate and the townscape changes, where can you put something like that that keeps it in the festival?” he said.

Marsh said the chamber has been considering if the carnival may actually be replaced one day with something else that appeals to children, and he’s already heard some creative suggestions. While it’s unlikely organizers can pull together anything to replace the carnival this weekend, Marsh and Griffith  say they’ll be seriously considering how the festival, which draws around 40,000 people each year, may evolve after this. For instance, Marsh said, some companies offer different types of carnivals, or perhaps the island could do something more homegrown.

“We can look at what could we create versus what have we created,” he said.

Griffith agreed, and said that while the chamber will be open to continuing the carnival again in the future, it will also be brainstorming and will be open to new ideas.

“I think it’s an opportunity as much as it is an enormous pain in the butt to have to do this at the last minute,” she said. “Let’s look at it as an opportunity to do something better.”

Editor’s note: The Strawberry Festival guide inside this issue includes information on the carnival that should be disregarded. The guide went to press before the carnival was canceled.

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