$1m deal will open Tall Ships to public

Patrick, Menino OK using convention funds for safety article page player in wide format.
By Donovan Slack
Globe Staff / June 17, 2009
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Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Governor Deval Patrick, ending weeks of anxiety for local businesses and disappointment among the public, have brokered a deal that will bring the Tall Ships to Boston this summer with $1 million in state funding to cover security costs, according to officials.

But it will be a muted exhibition compared to years past, with no fireworks and no line of ships under full sail coming through the harbor in a grand parade, typically the most watched event of the festival. The schooners, barques, and other sailing ships will instead arrive and depart at staggered intervals, the officials said.

A total of 49 ships are to arrive beginning July 8 and will remain until the July 13. The public will be welcomed aboard several ships free of charge, officials said.

Scott Ferson, a spokesman for Sail Boston, hailed the agreement and said the festival will still be one to remember, now that the public will be able to climb aboard the historic vessels.

“It’s a very rich experience and an important part of the event,’’ he said. “Sail Boston will do everything to make sure that experience is as rich as possible.’’

Under the deal, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority agreed to put up the $1 million, alleviating Menino’s concerns that the city would be stuck with the bill for public safety costs for the event, according to two officials briefed on the negotiations and another involved in them.

“It took a lot of work on both the state and the city’s parts for the public to have access to these ships,’’ said one official briefed on the talks.

The officials spoke about the agreement on condition of anonymity because they said board members of the Convention Center Authority had not yet been briefed on the plan. The authority is expected to take the money from a fund supported by hotel excise taxes and rental car surcharges. The governor has discretion over the fund and has approved the money for the event, the officials said.

“These ships are coming, and if they are coming, we wanted to work something out,’’ said the other official briefed on the plan.

Patrick and Menino personally hammered out some details of the agreement, including when they saw each other over the weekend at Boston’s gay pride parade.

The resolution has ended a contentious months-long dispute between Sail Boston organizers and the mayor. Menino had at various times threatened to bar spectators from reaching the docks and vowed to ask the Coast Guard to ban the Tall Ships from sailing into the harbor at all, unless organizers submitted a funding plan for public safety and paid the city upfront for security and preparation costs.

The dispute had its roots in a $1.6 million bill that the city says it was left with when the ships came to Boston in 2000. City officials said they were forced to absorb public safety costs that year because the state failed to provide any reimbursement. The parade of sails alone that year drew an estimated crowd of 8 million. The mayor, according to two city officials, was also upset in 2000 because he felt the event’s lead organizer, Dusty Rhodes of the event planning firm Conventures, had made a profit without helping the city.

Sail Boston organizers acknowledged earlier this year that security costs were a burden on the city that they would seek to avoid this time. But until this week, organizers did not have a way to pay the city in advance.

Neither Menino nor the governor was available for comment last night.

When the mayor first dug in his heels in April, many Sail Boston boosters were deeply disappointed that the city had decided not to support what they called a major opportunity to boost the local economy, by filling hotel rooms and restaurants that have languished in the recession.

The mayor’s opposition also dismayed fans of the festival and hotel and restaurant owners banking on the windfall.

The event, part of an international regatta that begins in Vigo, Spain, and ends in Belfast, is expected to include historic sailing ships from 20 countries, many of them century-old naval training vessels sailing from as far away as Russia, Bermuda, and Argentina.

The public will be allowed to board the ships on the evenings of July 9 and 10 and during the day on July 11 and 12.

Of the $1 million from provided by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, the city will receive $750,000.

The remainder will go to State Police and the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. The Massachusetts Port Authority will cover all the costs of hosting the ships at state docks, the officials said.

Donovan Slack can be reached at