Bay agrees to help fund BridgeFest

The Hancock County Chamber of Commerce will be getting another $5,000 this year from Bay St. Louis to help fund Bridge Fest, but this time it took some talking.

“I thought we weren’t going to do this any more,” Councilman Bill Taylor said when Chamber Director Tish Williams approached the City Council last week asking that the city contribute the same amount it gave in 2010 for the festival.

Williams said Bridge Fest was so successful last year that it has been expanded this year, running May 21-22. As many as 250 vendors may rent booths at the event, she said. Booths are renting for $150 each. Several other public and private sponsors are also providing $5,000 donations, Williams said.

The festival began as a one-time celebration to mark the opening of the new Bay bridge after Hurricane Katrina, then became an annual event.

Taylor’s comment grew from a feeling by some council members that the city has already been more than generous to the chamber, having given the group virtually free, full-time use of the former City Hall Annex building on Court Street for its headquarters. The chamber recently threw a party when it moved into the building, for which it pays the city annual rent of $1.

Before the chamber took it over, the city spent nearly $600,000 in federal funds to renovate the annex, which had been damaged by Katrina.

In making her Bridge Fest request, Williams told council members it cost $50,000 to stage last year’s festival.

“We are taking a risk to even do the festival,” she said. “Without your sponsorship, we won’t be able to move forward and cover the cost.” Payments for entertainment and sound equipment alone last year cost $25,000, Williams added.

However, Taylor said, “I thought our donation (to the chamber) was going to be as a tenant in the old Annex on Court Street.” And he added: “I have to ask … we’re spending taxpayers’ money.”

Mayor Les Fillingame supported the chamber’s funding request. “Bridge Fest is quickly becoming our signature event,” he said.

Williams’ request passed 5-0, with council members Wendy McDonald and Joey Boudin recusing themselves. Even though he did vote in favor, Ward 3 Councilman Jeff Reed told Williams, “I do hope to see a time when you will be able to stand on your own.”

BY: JR Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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