Winterfest organizers: We need financial help

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Bryan DeLuca, president of the East End Tourism Alliance, asks business owners to help support next year’s Long Island Winterfest jazz concert series at a meeting Tuesday at Hyatt Place East End in Riverhead.

Long Island Winterfest organizers made a pitch to East End business owners at Hyatt Place East End’s Sea Star Ballroom in Riverhead Tuesday afternoon to sponsor the popular concert series in the vineyards, because they could see between $10,000 and $40,000 less in county funding this coming winter.

“There just simply aren’t the public funds available this year to carry us to the next level,” said Steven Bate of the Long Island Wine Council, which promotes and organizes the event, along with East End Arts and the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Organizers secured $30,000 from the county through Legislator Ed Romaine’s office last year, but will receive just $20,000 this year, according to Bill Faulk, Mr. Romaine’s aide.

On top of the money through the legislator, Mr. Faulk said Winterfest organizers have in years past also secured a $30,000 competitive grant from the county’s Cultural Affairs Advisory Board, but the grant money typically isn’t awarded until Winterfest is almost over — and it isn’t a sure thing.

Fearing the worst, organizers are left searching for sponsorships.

“We’re looking for opportunities to band together to support this great event,” Bryan DeLuca, president of East End Tourism Alliance, said to a crowd of about 50.
“We don’t want [Winterfest] to go away,” he added. “This is an opportunity for us to play off each other’s strengths.”

Customers at last year’s concerts, which were held at local wineries and a pair of Riverhead hotels, paid $10 per ticket for admission to a jazz performance and a glass of wine.
A similar ticketing method is planned for next year’s series, which is slated for February and March.

Organization representatives, who sat on a panel during Tuesday’s meeting, said Winterfest has been successful in generating revenue at the wineries and increasing tourism to the North Fork during the winter months, when business is slowest.

“In the winter months, it’s just dead,” Mr. Bate said. “[Winterfest] really has created a new seasonal destination for this region.”

Twenty-one wineries — up from 16 last year — have signed up to host musical performances as part of next year’s series.

Pat Snyder of East End Arts said about 100 area musicians have already expressed interest in performing.

“Quality is very important to us,” she said, noting that Paul Simon’s bassist, Bakithi Kumalo — among other internationally known artists — has performed in years past. “We really feel [Winterfest] has the potential to be a nationally recognized jazz festival.”

Business owners can sponsor Winterfest by paying either $500 or $1,000. They’d then be promoted, to different extents, at the concerts, in print and online media outlets and on social networking websites.

Mr. Bate said organizers “ideally” need $20,000 from business sponsorships to ensure the event is as successful as it’s been in years past — without going broke.
Diane Harkoff, co-owner of Legends Restaurant in New Suffolk, said whether wineries are allowed to provide food at the concerts would influence her decision to be a sponsor.

“As a restaurant owner, I’d like to see food restricted at the wineries to drive business to us,” she said.

Mr. Bate said the wineries are allowed to sell cheese platters and other snacks, and will likely do so during Winterfest.

Some business officials offered to promote the concert series as a courtesy. When Douglas Harrington of announced that the travel guide website will advertise the event for free, the crowd applauded. He added that the website will soon feature a whole North Fork section.

Winterfest organizers emphasized at the meeting that the event is beneficial to wineries, restaurants, hotels and retail shops alike.

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