The first annual Veterans Day Boat Show With a Twist of Parrot was supposed to be a giant celebration of American’s veterans for the city of Safety Harbor.
But for some, the inaugural event was a big disappointment.
Local veterans' organizations, city officials and others have expressed concerns over the lack of attendance and subsequent lack of proceeds from the event, which spanned three days over Veterans Day weekend in November.
The concerns prompted the City Commission to enact stricter guidelines when it comes to approving similar charitable endeavors during their Nov. 19 meeting.
But event organizer Glen Caristinos says there are two sides to every story.
“Nobody knows all that I did to put the thing together,” Caristinos told Patch. “No one realizes what it cost to put on that event.
“I brought in the flyover. I brought in the ski team. I brought in the veterans groups. I did all that,” he said. “I put my heart and soul into this.”
Attendance Woes Lead to Unhappiness
When the application for the Veterans Boat Show was filed with the city, no one had any idea what the event would be like. First-time events are often plagued by low attendance, especially when they fall on a busy autumn weekend in Florida.
And while a number of competing events in the Tampa Bay area that weekend — Rib Fest in St. Pete, a wine festival in Dunedin — could have played a factor, no one is denying that attendance was poor.
“It’s a very well-run event. It’s one of the best run events I’ve ever been a part of,” local artist Stacy Roth, who had a booth at the show, said at the time. “It’s too bad more people didn’t turn out.”
Caristinos, for his part, admitted the attendance was bad, but he’s not sure why.
“We understand the attendance was very poor, there’s no denying it,” Caristinos said. “Why was the turnout so bad? I don’t know. I took out newspaper ads, TV ads.”
“I know the Home Show was down. I heard Rib Fest was down. Is it a sign of the times? I don’t know. I don’t speculate on attendance.”
The low turnout led to very little money being generated for the 200-plus vendors, groups and businesses that were a part of the show.
Connie Church, owner of the De Lei’d Parrots band that performed at the show, said it took more than three weeks to get her money from Caristinos, and she is determined to prevent him from doing something similar again.
“The money is not the issue anymore," she wrote in an email. "I want to stand with the veterans and make ... sure that this guy does not do this to anyone else."
Caristinos claims a “clerical error” caused the delay in the payment to Church. He says everyone who was promised a payment has been paid.
The real problem, he believes, is that many people didn’t read their contracts, which promised free space and tents but not any guaranteed payouts.
“All of our paperwork stated what we were doing,” he said. “At the end of the day, I never misled anybody.”
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“Anesthetized by the Word ‘Veteran’ ”
But for some of those involved with the show, the problem wasn’t with the attendance or the money.
The problem was with Caristinos using the word "veteran” to promote his own endeavor.
“When somebody wants to use the veterans, it should be tough to do,” said Dr. Allen Hayes, national vice chairman of the Veterans Party of America and a member of Safety Harbor VFW Post #10093.
“I don’t think anyone queried what was coming back to us. And that’s on us, too.”
Hayes took up his concerns at the City Commission meeting on Dec. 3, where he cautioned the commissioners, "...the next time you utilize the word veteran, contact the (American) Legion and the VFW and see how we feel about it."
At the previous meeting, the commissioners approved an ordinance that would allow for stricter guidelines in vetting events run by nonprofits.
“I talked to people from the VFW and American Legion, and they were kind of upset that it was being tagged as a vets-type affair just because it fell on Veterans Day weekend,” Mayor Andy Steingold said.
“I think we were between a rock and a hard place because it had been tagged as a veterans event, which puts us in a difficult light to say no to an event that we believe is for a good cause.”
Hayes believes that stance isn’t good enough when it comes to veterans.
“I’d like to see the city held responsible for their actions,” he said. “I think the groups that are responsible were anesthetized by the word ‘veterans.’ They were numb to the consequences.”
Caristinos says people might have misunderstood what he was trying to do because of the timing of the event.
“Here’s the origin of the confusion: It was never promised as a veterans event, except in conjunction with the ceremony on Veterans Day,” he said.
“If I knew it was going to cause this much havoc, I would have never used it in the name.”
Not Everyone is Unhappy
While it might seem like the whole city is against him, Caristinos is quick to point out that all the positive things he did for those involved with the show are going largely unnoticed.
In addition to supplying free tents and spaces at the show, he allowed a number of veterans groups to promote their organizations for free in addition to scheduling the flyover, water ski show and other activities.
In fact, many veterans have expressed gratitude for what Caristinos did for them.
“The Quantico (VA) Sentry published a story about my balloon twisting online,” Marine Corps Cpl. John Alfano told Patch via email. “Glen Caristinos found this article and had a goal to bring me down to Florida for the Veterans Boat Show in Safety Harbor.”
Alfano went on to say that Caristinos arranged for his round-trip transportation and hotel accommodations. “All I had to worry about was remembering to bring my balloons,” he wrote.
The experience was meaningful to Alfano because he was able to interact with Santa’s Drill Team, which presented him with an American flag.
“My parents were a part of the crowd that day,” he added. “My Mama told me that watching that happen was one of the proudest moments of her life.”
Dave Dabney of Tampa Bay Troop Support, which had a table at the event, had similar praise for Caristinos.
“What Glen and his group did was create a new event to show good support for the veterans and raise money for a good cause,” Dabney said.
“The first time any event is held, there is always a learning curve and some logistics that will need to be fine tuned for the next run,” he added. “Glen offered our troop support group a place there next year, and we have happily accepted.”
Whether there will be another Veterans Boat Show is doubtful; it’s not on the schedule of events for 2013, and City Manager Matt Spoor said, “We’ll make adjustments accordingly if he plans to do something else in Safety Harbor.”
But Caristinos said he has no qualms about attempting to organize another one.
“Would I change the date? I might. I could see us changing the name if it’s not held on Veterans Day weekend.”
“But I don’t feel as if I need to do that,” he said. “I don’t want it to lose its identity.”
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