Sandbagged? – Is Sand Sculpting Festival moving to Lynn?

By Seth Daniel
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A winter chill has been put on the city’s biggest fun-in-the-sun festival, the annual New England Sand Sculpting Invitational on Revere Beach, as a shakeup in the organization has one former coordinator trying to take the festival to Lynn.

Much to the surprise of everyone locally, an e-mail went out late last week from the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce (LACC), announcing they had been approached by Sean “Fitzy Snowman” Fitzpatrick about moving the New England Sand Sculpting Festival to Lynn.

The e-mail seemed to be asking for opinions from the business community and also was a solicitation to see if any in the Lynn business community would be willing to commit to a sponsorship of a newly-located sandcastle festival.

“The organizer is former Lynn native and nationally renowned sculptor, Sean Fitzpatrick,” the e-mail read. “For many years, this event was held on Revere Beach and drew thousands of attendees. While Revere’s event was a week long, the Chamber has discussed the opportunity with the city, and we think for the first year, a four-day event in July would be best. In addition, to keep the event within the business community, the organizer views Lynn Central Square and areas around it as an ideal location. This should be a very positive and wonderful new community event for our city.”

On Tuesday, Leslie Gould, LACC executive director, told the Journal they were scheduled to meet with Lynn city officials on the matter that day.

She had no further news on the matter, but some close to the situation indicated the LACC may turn down Fitzpatrick.

The reason could quite possibly be the circumstance by which Fitzpatrick comes to them.

Last fall, apparently, members of the Revere Beach Partnership, who organize the annual event, voted to relieve Fitzpatrick of his duties as a contracted coordinator.

Since the inception of the event, Fitzpatrick has been a contracted worker for the Partnership and has been responsible for bringing in the professional sand sculptors and creating the large, elaborate demo site.

No one from the Partnership was available for comment right away, but another source close to the matter said Fitzpatrick had been removed.

Mayor Tom Ambrosino confirmed the fact.

“Fitzpatrick was just a contracted employee of the Partnership, and I suppose he can run another sandcastle festival somewhere else if he wants to,” said the mayor. “The Partnership decided he wasn’t the person they wanted overseeing the sandcastle event.”

Fitzpatrick, contacted by phone while he was out of state, said he didn’t know the circumstances and hadn’t had any communication about his departure from the Partnership.

“I don’t even know if I know the full story because I was never even talked to about all of this,” he said. “I’m not bitter or trying to badmouth Revere. It is what it is…I basically got stabbed in the back.”

Fitzpatrick said he heard the Partnership is working with two sand sculptors who competed in the Revere competition for the past four years to organize this year’s event.

“The Revere Beach Partnership, along with Celebrity Marketing Incorporated [CMI], kind of met behind my back and made some certain moves and were negotiating with a group of sculptors…in an attempt to take over the event behind my back,” he said. “I said that if that was the case, then I would have to pick up the event and move it somewhere else…I just started protecting my interests and started talking with other communities, and Lynn was one of them.”

He indicated the sculptors working with the Partnership are attempting to put together a three-city sand sculpting tour. Revere Beach would be the second stop on that tour.

“They don’t have the experience to organize something this big,” he said. “They compete, but being on the other side organizing is a whole different thing than competing. They tried to run one of these in Treasure Island, Florida, 10 years ago, and it was a flop.”

He said the separation is particularly hurtful, because although he was contracted and paid, he also volunteered a lot of his own time to make sure the event was the best it could be.

“I’m not closing the door on Revere,” he said. “If someone wants to come sit down and talk with me about it, I’m willing to sit down with them.”

However, sources close to the situation indicated that probably wouldn’t happen anytime soon. Those sources indicated the separation came because Fitzpatrick was difficult to work with and had overstepped his boundaries one too many times.

“There’s a lot of friction behind the scenes people aren’t aware of,” said one source. “Despite people talking to him, his behavior never changed. The board voted to fire him, and he’s doing everything he can to undermine the sandcastle event.”

According to the Partnership’s website, the 2009 New England Sand Sculpting Festival is scheduled to take place July 16-18. The event has been scaled down from previous years, though. Last year, it was more than a week long and attracted an estimated 500,000 people to Revere Beach.

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