GLOVERSVILLE -- A week after it was announced that the annual Railfest would be canceled, an effort has begun to get it back on track.
The cancellation was announced during a Gloversville Common Council meeting Tuesday. But now, the committee that has organized the event since 2004, with help from the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth, is working to resurrect the summer festival.
“We’re trying to work through some issues, and we can’t say whether we’re going to have it or not. Hopefully within the next week we’ll have them worked out,” said Railfest committee member Robin Wentworth.
Railfest is held in early August at Gloversville’s Trail Station Park. It traditionally features vendors, food, live music and other entertainment. Face-painting, a dunk tank and children’s amusements are also offered.
The event was canceled, the committee said, because of a city policy that forbids bounce houses to be located on city-owned property. Wentworth said the event lost its rides vendor last year, and Railfest 2016 was plagued by dissatisfaction over a lack of rides for kids. The committee was unable to secure another vendor, and a lack of volunteers was also mentioned as an obstacle to this year's event.
Wentworth said Friday that having a bounce house is essential, and without one, the event would be canceled.
But after the committee’s announcement, there was an outpouring of support from the community. Simultaneously, Mayor Dayton King spoke to the city’s insurance company about the rules pertaining to bounce houses. The insurance company said that, as long as the third-party vendor agreed to hold the city harmless in the event of an incident or accident, a bounce house could be featured at Railfest.
King then reached out to the Center for Regional Growth’s Jennifer Jennings, who functions as the downtown development specialist for Gloversville. Jennings said she was contacted by King to mediate between the committee and city officials.
Wentworth, a former 1st ward common council member, is a frequent critic of King and the council.
King said he feels Railfest’s cancellation at the council meeting last week, which he said was abrupt and unexpected, was politically motivated.
“It was the first that this was brought to my attention that this is an issue,” King said.
Wentworth was elected to the council in 2007 and lost a re-election bid in 2015. King, who was elected mayor in 2009, said the two clashed from the beginning.
Wentworth refused to tie politics to Railfest.
“I’m not even going to comment on that because that’s his issue,” she said, referring to King. “My only goal here is Railfest.”
Of the committee’s decision to announce Railfest’s cancellation at the council meeting, she said: “That was a public meeting. The city has always supported Railfest, and we felt that was the best way to get that out there.”
Jennings said she was unaware of any history between Wentworth and King.
“From what I understand, the Railfest committee had been thinking about the decision and coming up with a solution, and then just decided to make the announcement this week,” said Jennings. “With that said though, they’re still open to coming up with a solution if one can be found.”
Jennings said the city’s insurance policy for bounce houses is pretty standard: The vendor has to agree to hold the city harmless, the vendor needs to have proof of insurance and they need to name the city as additionally insured.
Wentworth said she was aware of the city’s policy, and that having a bounce house at Railfest last year was a possibility even with those criteria.
“Even at that point last year, they had said no,” she said. “It looks like the city is now going to say we can. That’s where we’re at.”
Wentworth said last year, in lieu of a bounce house, the committee rented a trackless train amusement ride and lost money on the deal. Event participants also complained that there weren’t more options for kids.
“There was a barrage of complaints from people,” she said, adding that if Railfest were to occur this year after all, a bounce house is a must, and the committee is still working through the issues with the help of Jennings.
“We didn’t give up; we’re still trying,” she said.
She added that Railfest’s cancellation led to an outcry in the community.
“We had an overwhelming response to the announcement,” said Wentworth. “I guess this was a wake-up call to the community that this is a great event. But if people want it, things have to be different.”
King said if Railfest were to be canceled after all, he would work on holding another event in its place.
“As far as I’m concerned, Railfest will go on. It may go by another name, but I want to continue providing a venue for our citizens, especially our children, one that they’ve looked forward to for the last 12 years,” he said.