High above Revere Beach last July on the Ferris Wheel during the International Sand Sculpting Festival, one could only marvel at the mobs of people having good, safe and clean fun on Revere Beach.
It’s also not hard to remember that Revere Beach was neither good, safe or clean a short distance in the past.
Just as no one wanted to come to Revere Beach in the past, nowadays everyone wants to come to Revere Beach – and that’s in no small part due to the efforts of John Hamel and the many others that coordinate the Revere Beach Sand Sculpting Festival on a yearly basis.
Over the last three years, a good festival has become a great festival and has highlighted Revere Beach to a local, regional and national audience in a way it hasn’t been highlighted in decades.
People leave Revere Beach with their families after the Festival and they are happy.
And they want to come back.
This year, with estimates of more than one million visitors over the weeklong period, the 2015 Festival was bigger and better than it has ever been.
For his part in making that happen, Revere native John Hamel – chairman of the Revere Beach Partnership’s Sand Sculpting Festival Committee – is the Revere Journal’s 2016 Man of the Year.
“I think the Festival, clearly, like any other great celebration didn’t start overnight,” he said. “To some, it might feel like the Festival has taken off, but 2016 will be its 13th year. The success has a lot to do with the founders and people like Adrienne Maguire who hired one sand sculptor to come to the Beach and put up a sculpture. It was that simple and it took off from there. And it’s not just me; it takes so many other people besides me for this to go off the way it does.”
But tragedy struck within the Partnership in 2012 when they lost their executive director and the grand Festival nearly was cancelled.
That’s when Hamel joined the effort and had a vision for taking the Festival to greater heights – such as were achieved in 2015.
“The Festival almost didn’t happen in 2012 and the entire board came together and decided to move forward without an executive director and run the event as a group of volunteers on our own,” he said. “It was an inflective point where we decided we weren’t going to have a small street festival held together with duct tape, but rather we were going to professionalize and go to the next level. So, we went from it almost not happening in 2012 to growing three or four times the size in the footprint and the numbers of visitors.”
All of that had to do with better planning, fund-raising, organization and new Executive Director Erin Lynch. Many of the business practices were also professionalized. He also brought in the Food Truck Festival, a family day competition on Sundays, and greater numbers of professional sculptors.
During that time, Hamel served as president of the Partnership and chair of the Sand Sculpting Festival.
Hamel, 43, attended the Whelan School for elementary and junior high before attending Savio High School in Eastie. From there, he went on the Harvard University where he studied Biology. In order to try to save Savio from closure, he went back after college and taught chemistry, physics and computer science. Following that stint, he founded Hamel Management Group, a Boston-based real estate company that, among other things, redeveloped a blighted Broadway building into the current Fernwood Professional Building.
It was a banner development for Broadway at the time in the early 2000s, and Hamel said he was always proud of being able to do something great for his hometown.
However, in his other business, the venture-capital firm Cue Ball Capital, he worked mostly outside of Revere and had also moved to Lynnfield. In those dealings and in his new home, he often found himself having to defend his hometown from the usual disparaging jokes. It made him want to give back in some way.
The Sand Sculpting Festival turned out to be that way.
“Revere gets more than its fair share of bad publicity,” he said. “I could either constantly argue against those comments or find a way to attract good will. I felt, in the end, a better way to combat that was to create positive news through working with the International Sand Sculpting Festival. The bottom line is I’m proud of my hometown and I still think it’s best days are ahead of it and just needs a spotlight put on it. The Sand Sculpting Festival is a way to do that in a fun way – to have the Revere people and their Beach be able to shine for everyone for a week in the summer.”