Denying carnival was the right call

By on January 2, 2012

First, full disclosure: I was a member of the Nags Head Anniversary committee, the group that brought a carnival to the vacant lot at Windmill Point last June.

The carnival was well received by locals and visitors alike, and a revenue-sharing arrangement between the vendor, Boardwalk Attractions and the town allowed both parties to operate in the black.

Local businesses, which were able to operate food and sales booths, found the carnival added some much-needed revenue to their bottom lines.

When it was all over, our committee thought the carnival should be a regular visitor to the area.

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Apparently, Boardwalk Attractions felt the same way and approached the Dare County Tourism Board with a proposal for a sophomore run. This time the plans were far more elaborate — an eight-week carnival smack dab in the middle of our high season for visitors.

The board, which jointly owns the soundfront property with the town, turned the proposal down. Sadly, I am forced to agree with them.

I continue to support the area hosting such a carnival each year. If the carnival is of relatively short duration, say, one week and tied to a thematic event, I can survive the heartburn of a public-private partnership.

Virginia Beach hosts a carnival each year on the publicly owned Mount Trashmore Park, usually around the Fourth of July holiday. Other governments often allow the traditional “county fair” to set up shop on public land. In these cases, private companies reap economic benefit from publicly owned land.

But government and business leaders on the tourism board who felt an eight-week carnival would rob revenues from private sector businesses were correct.

Businesses also have sunk costs, typically in land and improvements, including buildings, they must recover in the course of their business activities. No matter what rent the tourism board might charge the vendor, it would be nearly impossible to levy a figure that would stack up as fair, given the fixed costs local businesses must absorb.

The public-private partnership would, in essence, place the public sector in the position of subsidizing a private venture.

If the board and Nags Head want to bring in a carnival for one week, perhaps as a way to celebrate the town’s birthday each year, or even as part of an end-of-tourist season festival similar to Virginia Beach’s “Neptune Festival,” a short-term use of public land would be consistent with the manner in which most local governments handle these situations.

As far as a long-term carnival goes, there is plenty of privately owned land dotting the bypass, including the former location of Dowdy’s amusement park in Nags Head.

If Boardwalk Attractions wishes to have a longer-term presence in the area, the private sector market is where it needs to focus its efforts.

I am sure in these cash-strapped times some willing landlords might be more than happy to enter into a rental/revenue-sharing arrangement with the company. And everyone would win.

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