UPDATE: Early Sunday evening, City of Brantford Mayor Chris Friel said he is working with Star Security Inc. in an effort to salvage Hockeyfest 2012. Meanwhile, Hockeyfest organizer Ralph Spoltore says he intends to proceed with festival setup at Brant Conservation Area as planned on Monday.
Brantford Hockeyfest has had the rug pulled out from under it with less than a week to go before the event, festival organizer Ralph Spoltore said late Saturday night.
The Brantford Police Service told Spoltore on Saturday morning that it had concerns about event security. That sparked a decision by the Grand River Conservation Authority on Saturday afternoon to withdraw the use of Brant Conservation Area as the venue for the three-day concert, scheduled to take place this Friday to Sunday.
“I will not sleep until I have explored every opportunity to make this event go this week,” Spoltore said. “We are going to do everything in our power to deliver an unbelievable festival to this community. We need everyone to help us change the minds of the powers that be.”
Brantford Mayor Chris Friel said it was decided that the festival was a major safety concern during a meeting on Friday between officials from the Brantford Police Service, County of Brant OPP, Brantford Fire Department, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and GRCA.
“The concern (out of the meeting) is that the mix of alcohol and poor management was going to create a major problem,” Friel said. “The safety of the people coming was of paramount importance. (The officials at the meeting) did not feel the people coming would be safe or the security personnel would be safe.”
The Brantford Police Service posted a media release on its website Saturday stating that “the organizers missed critical deadlines and failed to meet the requirements to ensure there was an acceptable level of security that would ensure the safety of all people attending, volunteering or working at the event.”
The lack of police support led the GRCA to conclude that Spoltore would not be able to fulfill a clause in the contract for the use of Brant Conservation Area that calls for “paid-duty police officials” on location.
The GRCA issued a press release Saturday afternoon announcing Brant Conservation Area would not be the venue for Hockeyfest.
“It is our belief that the clause in the contract was not going to be executed with the Brantford police,” GRCA communications co-ordinator Dave Schultz said during an interview. “So we told the promoter we couldn’t be the venue.
“We put (the news) release out because we are convinced (Hockeyfest) is not going to happen on our property.”
As for hiring another police force to provide security, Shultz said that would be unlikely.
“(The contract) doesn’t specify the Brantford police, but I think you would have to talk to the promoter about getting other police forces involved," Schultz said. "It would be unusual for a police service to come to another jurisdiction.”
Two sides quickly emerged in the debate surrounding Hockeyfest security concerns and how they were handled.
Spoltore said he was informed during a meeting with police on Saturday morning that concerns included a scaling back of festival security personnel and that Spoltore planned to bring in an additional security firm to work at the event.
“The information about another security firm is misinformation,” Spoltore said. “They were told by someone that we were using an additional security company from around the city. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We have one security company that we worked with and have never, ever partnered with any other security company.”
As for the number of security personnel, Spoltore said his plan was “tweaked” to represent the average number of security guards that would be needed at the venue based on ticket sales so far.
“We took it from 110 guards to 75 guards based on ticket sales,” Spoltore said. “But bottom line, if they had simply phoned me and told me it had to be 110, I would have easily agreed.”
Friel, who was at the Friday meeting between emergency personnel, said other issues arising during the meeting included information that a shuttle bus contract for the festival had fallen through.
A shuttle bus company has been hired to take concert goers from the event parking lot, located near the Brantford Municipal Airport, to Brant Conservation Area.
“There have been no concerns with the shuttle contract,” Spoltore said. “I asked the city about buses to supplement the shuttle service already in place. I don’t know how that turned into the contract falling through. It seems everyone is being given terrible information from someone not involved with Hockeyfest.”
Friel said he heard a list of other concerns about security, but Spoltore said his 20-page security plan, created by Star Security Inc., is bulletproof.
“Hockeyfest is an award-winning music festival and has never had a security breach in two years,” Spoltore said. “We hang our hat on being a safe and affordable venue for our patrons.”
After two years at Lions Park in Brantford, this year was the first year Hockeyfest was to be held at Brant Conservation Area.
After putting together a lineup that features major acts like Weezer, Hedley, Creed, Sloan and Marianas Trench, Spoltore said he is thoroughly disappointed that officials from the police department and GRCA didn’t attempt to work through concerns with him.
“Neither myself nor my security company were invited to the (emergency personnel) meeting or knew about the meeting,” Spoltore said. “To have the rug pulled out from underneath us, in a closed-door meeting no less, is heartbreaking.”
If Spoltore cannot appease the police or GRCA by midday Monday, he said there may be long-shot options to try and pull off the concert.
He could not say if another venue could be made available on such short notice.
“Time is not on our side,” Spoltore said. “I have staging, fencing, generators and trucks coming in on Monday and Tuesday. We will be exploring all our legal options. I still hope we can get the powers that be at the GRCA and police to revisit this in time to have the event.”
But Schultz believes the decision by the GRCA is final.
“We were very excited about (the event),” Schultz said. “We invested a lot of time and put some money into preparing the site and getting everything ready from our point of view. We worked with (the organizers) as well as we could. But as of Friday the police were not satisfied. That left us in the position we are in.”
Friel said he respects the decision made by police and the GRCA.
“This was not an easy decision to make,” Friel said. “As much as they knew the problems they are going to create, their bottom line was safety. Since no one could guarantee that safety, they made the tough decision.”
Hockeyfest was in receipt of a $350,000 grant from Celebrate Ontario, a provincial agency that provides support to festivals and events in the province.
Brant MPP Dave Levac said it’s too soon for Celebrate Ontario to wade into the debate.
“It depends on what happens between what is being said now and what happens on the date,” Levac said. “Not all the money has been released because they do it in draws. They are not going to suddenly claw back the money. Celebrate Ontario will only get involved if the event doesn’t happen at all.”
Levac said he is holding out hope that Spoltore can pull a rabbit out of a hat.
“The lineup he has is amazing,” Levac said. “We haven’t seen a lineup like that in Brantford ever. I know (Spoltore) will be working day and night to pull this off.”