While contradictory rumors swirl regarding the fate of the 18th Avenue Feast, organizers tell Bensonhurst Bean that the generations old tradition is cancelled now and, potentially, forever.
Rumors have been swirling for weeks that the event would go kaput after about 30 years (60, if you include its predecessor on 14th Avenue), exacerbated by contradictory reports in this news outlet and the local papers. Bensonhurst Bean reported last Friday that the event would be abbreviated to one day, citing the city’s event calendar.
Then earlier this week, News Corp.-owned Courier-Life, which publishes the Bay News and Brooklyn Paper, exclaimed “Don’t believe the blogs!” saying the event would go the full 10-days. But now organizers are telling us that we were both wrong – this year’s event is smoked.
“There isn’t gonna be a Feast,” Joe LaMotta, one of the festival organizers, told Bensonhurst Bean. “The Festa di Santa Rosalia is cancelled.”
LaMotta confirmed a Facebook post fellow Santa Rosalia organizer Joe DeMarco published yesterday afternoon, stating the following:
FOR ALL THOSE PEOPLE WHO HAVE THEIR HOPES UP….I AM SAD TO INFORM YOU THAT THERE WILL BE NO FEAST THIS YEAR…WHICH MEANS NEVER AGAIN ON 18TH AVE WILL THERE BE A FEAST OF SANTA ROSALIA….IF YOU READ THE ARTICLE THAT SAID THE FEAST IS ON…IT GOT ITS INFORMATION FROM THE MAYORS OFFICE….YES ALL THE PERMITS ARE ISSUED…BUT THERE IS NOW NO TIME TO GET 250 VENDORS, ENTERTAINERS ETC TO MAKE THE FEAST HAPPEN…AND THE SOCIETY HEADS ARE JUST FED UP AND TIRED…
Bensonhurst Bean got in touch with DeMarco after the post went up, and he confirmed that organizers had called it quits on the event.
“Basically, the permit took a long time to be issued,” he said. “The community board and NYPD signed off in March, but the mayor’s office didn’t get it done until recently.”
Echoing his Facebook post, DeMarco said it would be nearly impossible to get the vendors, entertainers and more to the event in such little time.
“It’s kind of hard to organize something in 10 days,” DeMarco said. He noted on Facebook that the vendors and amusement operators would still have to file for their own permits, too.
Still, there may be hope a scaled back event could go forward. After posting on Facebook, DeMarco told Bensonhurst Bean a number of “die-hard” Feast fans came out of the woodwork, and the outpouring of support sparked an emergency meeting last night to see if something could be salvaged. We spoke to DeMarco before that meeting; we have not yet been able to get in touch regarding the outcome. However, a new Facebook post by DeMarco appeared shortly before 11:00 a.m. today elaborating on the cancellation – suggesting last night’s emergency meeting was a bust.
If the event doesn’t go forward – and it looks like it won’t – it could mean the annual neighborhood tradition is gone for good, since the city has been refusing to issue new permits for street festivals. By not using it this year, the city will look at future requests as a “new” permit, as opposed to a renewed one.
“The mayor’s office has made it clear … if we lose the permit it would be very hard to get it back,” said a local political staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
With all the confusion and contradictory reports, local politicians have been unwilling to comment on the feast’s possible demise until an official announcement has been made.
“One way or the other, it’s down to the wire,” our anonymous source told Bensonhurst Bean. “Everyone thinks it’s on based on what was reported [by Courier-Life and Brooklyn Paper], but that was very inaccurate. It’s definitely not on as of right now.”
The source added that one of the hold-ups not being mentioned by organizers was that the group failed to provide proof of insurance and 501(c)3 status, required to obtain the permits from the mayor’s office.
That detail was seconded by Community Board 11 District Manager Marnee Elias-Pavia, who said Feast die-hards shouldn’t be so quick to blame the mayor. She said the city took an unusual step in following up with organizers several times since March, attempting to get the information necessary.
“No way did the mayor’s office drop the ball – and it’s not often that we defend them,” said Elias-Pavia. “As an applicant, you have certain criteria that has to be filed.”
She added that the organization has been hit with tough times, though, as its leadership has aged or moved away, and the changing demographics of the area limited recruitment.
Additionally, a high-ranking political source who also asked to remain anonymous noted that there were additional complications that made the matter worse. Primarily, the source said, a massive FBI mafia bust in January swept up some members involved in organizing the vendor side of the event. With some unwilling or unable to organize the vendors in the wake of those arrests, in-fighting over what concessionaires will be involved, where they’d be placed and – fueled by local merchants who oppose the feast – whether there should be concessionaires at all, caused delays that were insurmountable.
“They squabbled so long they ran out of time and didn’t know what to do,” the source said.
As for DeMarco, one of the lead organizers, he’s taken some flack for the cancellation. But he’s urging fans to keep it together, rally, and plan for a future event.
“IF YOU HAVE READ MY OTHER POSTS I HAVE ASKED YOU ALL TO ADD ALL THE FRIENDS YOU CAN TO THIS [Facebook] GROUP, BECAUSE I AM WORKING ON OPTIONS AND ALTERNATIVES FOR NEXT YEAR TO TRY TO KEEP THIS TRADITION GOING,” he wrote on Facebook this morning. “PLEASE LETS NOT HATE, BLAME, OR TALK NASTY..THIS IS THE TIME WE NEED TO STICK TOGETHER AND BUILD A STRONG GROUP FOR THE FUTURE..TO KEEP OUR BELOVED TRADITIONS ALIVE.”
With additional reporting by Ned Berke.