The effects of Hurricane Ian are forcing Chalk Festival organizers to downsize and relocate at short notice

VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) – Chalk Festival organizers have faced many challenges over the years with the well-attended event.

In 2018, red tide forced them to postpone the event, and in 2020 and 2021, the pandemic canceled the events. As the non-profit was putting the finishing touches on the return of its all-inclusive event at the Venice Municipal Airport fairgrounds this month, they got some bad news.

Venice’s assistant city manager emailed founding creative director Denise Kowal on Oct. 7, just three weeks before the festival was set to begin.

The email reads as follows:

“It is with great regret that I inform you that the Venice Airport Festival grounds will be unavailable for special events until further notice and will not be able to accommodate your upcoming event. Due to Hurricane Ian, this area is being used by FPL as a staging area and is currently unavailable. Additionally, the Airport will have to fully assess and remediate the festival grounds after FPL is vacated Finally, city staff at the airport, public works, police and fire departments are unable to support the event due to very limited staffing resources as we focus on storm recovery and public safety.

As of Oct. 18, city officials told 8 On Your Side FPL had not officially relinquished the property. The utility still had a guard at the gate, some trucks coming and going, and equipment at the site as of Tuesday. The festival grounds remain unavailable for special events until further notice.

“There are a lot of times when I think if I had some space I would probably break down and cry, but I don’t have time for that. I have to back up an incredibly big event,” Kowal said.

Over the past few weeks, the team has been canceling flights and hotel accommodations and contacting vendors to alert them of the last-minute change.

“Financially, this is a huge blow. I haven’t even had time to consider exactly what it all means. We buy plane tickets months and months in advance, so we have almost $100,000 in plane tickets, so the first thing we try to figure out is what is our influence, what are the things for which we cannot get a refund, what are the things that will be left there so that we can use them at another time,” said the organizer. “The economic impact is in the hundreds of thousands, and the region will be in the millions.”

About 20 artists came to town a few weeks earlier to help set up ahead of the event, due to its large scale. Now the nonprofit has changed course and is now quickly planning a smaller-scale event in downtown Sarasota.

“At the time when all that was going down and going on, we really had to make quick decisions. We’re just dealing with too much money to not make quick decisions. So we’re going to put [focal] As part of our festival and traditional sidewalk artists, we were going to put it on hold until April and try to move forward with a lot of our 3-D artists. There will be around 25 international, I think 50 artists in total and we will go ahead with that,” said Kowal.

Business owners in Venice say the cancellation of an event at the municipal airport is unfortunate.

“We don’t have many events like this in Venice so it’s a shame they won’t be here this year. We were looking forward to it,” said Justin Pachota, president of the Venice Pier Group. “It’s just a big boom for tourism in the city. We’re obviously seeing a huge influx into our restaurants. It makes our staff excited because they have more people, new faces and definitely additional revenue.”

The Sarasota event will feature a variety of smaller events including sidewalk painting, a sidewalk chalk contest, and a zombie fundraiser and exhibit. Events will take place in or around the Burns Square area of ​​downtown Sarasota. There will be no formal entry fees, but the nonprofit is seeking donations to support its future events.

“Every penny we raise goes towards paying for airfare, hotel rooms for the artists, supplies for the artists, content we need at the event, storage like our warehouses, our website and social media costs, advertising. Every penny we have goes solely to creating this event,” Kowal said.

Events begin on October 28th. You can find more details online.

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