After months and months of planning for this year’s Sandsculpting Festival on Revere Beach, State Police and top state public safety officials approached the Revere Beach Partnership not long after the Boston Marathon bombings and told the organization it had to scrap it’s plans and start all over.
It was a painful blow to an organization that was breaking in a new, but capable, executive director and one that was in the final stages of planning one of the largest spectator events in eastern Massachusetts.
But the concerns were real, and State Police were worried that having everyone bunched up in a small area around the Bandstand would be inviting disaster if terrorists were to target the Festival.
And so, according to Partnership President John Hamel, they did a major re-tooling and ended up putting together a festival that probably turned out better than had there been no terrorism concerns.
“After the bombings in Boston, the State Police came to us not long after and told us we needed to change the layout of the Festival – to spread it out and move the location,” said Hamel. “That was just a few months before the Festival. We ended up having to stretch it from the Bandstand to the new pedestrian bridge. That’s a lot of space to fill, but it worked and it might be the new home for this event. It’s ironic that the biggest step forward for our event was the result of a tragedy happening in Boston. We were told to spread out by the State Police. They would have never asked us to do that, but they had to take those kinds of precautions after the Marathon. It ended up leading us to an increased footprint that surpassed our expectations…I think across all dimensions it was a success.”
What the terrorism precautions caused the Partnership to do is enlarge the festival, adding many more Food Trucks, creating a temporary promenade/boardwalk, adding a professional music stage, creating a fitness stage, doubling the fireworks display, implementing a metal detector treasure hunt and – in the process – delivering more than 500,000 people to Revere Beach on one of the hottest weekends in the summer.
“We switched gears quickly and turned it more into a Beach festival and less of a street festival,” said Hamel. “It was turning Revere Beach Boulevard into a boardwalk or promenade for a weekend and I think we succeeded. I have that Norman Gautreau picture of the Boulevard in the old days and I don’t know if that was my total inspiration, but when I thought about what a boardwalk on the Boulevard needed to look like, I thought about that picture.”
Mayor Dan Rizzo said he was impressed with the new layout and the crowd that was attracted.
“I think it was planned and carried out incredibly well,” he said. “It seemed as though the thousands of people there were enjoying themselves. I think the fireworks display on Sunday certainly rivaled any display I’ve seen. I think it showcased the city in a very positive light to those visiting our Beach, and I think that our residents should be proud of what we were able to provide over three days down there.”
Part of the success of that new layout came from adding five more sandsculptors to the competition and locating them further up the Beach and closer to the sidewalk. That not only solved some of the terrorism concerns, but also solved a frequent complaint about handicap accessibility.
Using the sculptures and enlarged musical stage as one side of the promenade, Hamel said they propped up the other side with Food Trucks, a larger kiddie carnival and other vendors/promotions.
The Food Trucks, he said, were being touted as an early victory.
Hamel said one goal was to reduce electricity and cleaning costs, and another was to increase the quality of food offered at the Festival. He said the Partnership believes they accomplished both with the mobile Food Trucks.
“For most of Friday and Saturday it was too hot to eat and some were concerned the trucks were not going to succeed,” he said. “Then as Saturday evening approached and Sunday came, I think the Food Trucks blew past every expectation they had. I think they were pleased and the crowd loved them. I think it was an absolute success and they are a winner at the Festival. We wanted restaurant quality food on the Beach and I think it was night and day with the quality of food we delivered this year.”
The key element to being able to enlarge the Festival on such short notice was the evolution of interested sponsors – sponsors who didn’t see the Festival as a charity cause, but rather as a great opportunity. Hamel said that was reflected well by the interest of GEICO Insurance.
“When I took over last year for my three-year term, I wanted to get the Festival to where it was a self-sufficient event,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be a charitable donation we had to go out and beg for, but rather a marketing investment for companies to showcase their products and services. We turned a corner with that this year. GEICO called us. That was a huge turning point. Brands are now recognizing us as a great marketing opportunity and a great cause all rolled into one.”
With that in mind, Hamel said the Partnership would soon begin going out and looking for a title sponsor next year – something they have never done before but they believe they can accomplish.
That goes to the point that the Festival is seemingly teetering on the edge of a very large growth curve. With the new layout tested and approved, and the sculptors flocking back each year, Hamel said the event is poised for national acclaim.
“Long ago it became more of a regional event and less of a local festival,” he said. “We’ve reached a tipping point this year. There’s an inflection point where an event goes towards being a national event. We’re not there yet, but I think we’re really close. At the level of quality for an organization, I think we’re moving towards being one of the nation’s premiere beach events. That’s where we’re going.”