Festival changes make waves

Alex Doty • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:43 PM

Organizers of the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival promise big fun in a smaller package this year.

And while most things should be business as usual for the festival, missing will be the “Coast Guard City USA” sign atop Dewey Hill. Grand Haven City Council has said no to the signage.

A majority of council believes the 8-foot tall wooden letters damaged the grass and integrity of the hillside.

Councilman Bob Monetza said the big white lettering is also inappropriate for the hill setting.

“I fully recognize the value that the Coast Guard Festival is to the city,” he said. "I don't want to sound terribly negative about it, but I really don't like the letters on the hill.”

Coast Guard Festival Executive Director Mike Smith said he is disappointed with City Council’s decision.

"For 365 days of the year, the Nativity Scene lays flat on Dewey Hill," Smith said, noting that groups climb around the hill to put it up. “Maybe there is logic that I’m missing — but, if there is, I am missing it.”

City Manager Pat McGinnis said there is a special city property policy in place for the placement of the Nativity Scene, which is in operation in December. He said a non-municipal group puts the scene in place and pays the city a fee to cover rental of the land, any work by city staff and any remediation efforts.

Smith said he has not seen or heard of any evidence of dune degradation as a result of the placement of the Coast Guard City USA sign.

“Their actions show a lack of support,” Smith said of City Council’s decision.

Only one member of council supports keeping the letters on the hill — Mayor Geri McCaleb.

“I was pleased with the mayor’s leadership on the subject of the Coast Guard lettering on the hill, and disappointed that the other council members don’t seem to clearly understand the importance of Grand Haven as Coast Guard City USA,” Smith said.

Smith said he's received only praise from the community for the two years that the letters were in place.

“I am sure there will be an outpouring of support from the community,” he said of the missing letters.

Reaction to City Council's decision was swift.

On the Tribune’s Facebook page, Laurie Kelley posted Tuesday that she likes the letters on the hill.

“(I) thought the letters were a nice addition along with the new lighting on them and the anchor,” she wrote. “A (week's worth) of them being displayed can't be that damaging. Too bad to see them go.”

Roxanne Stanley also voiced her opposition to City Council's decision.

“Let tradition be,” she wrote. “Shame on you for wanting to mess with the history and traditions of that great Coast Guard City!!!”

Sandy Klaassen praised McCaleb for supporting the sign and chastised the rest of City Council.

"Thank you, Mayor Geri. At least you show your support," Klaassen posted. "What is wrong with the others? Ruin the grass? The letters were a nice touch for one week."

Despite the hill sign dispute, Smith expects that this year's festival, July 26 to Aug. 4, will be a good event. However, he said the federal government's budget squeeze will mean a little less U.S. Coast Guard presence at the festival.

“The Coast Guard Festival will be better than ever, but not bigger than ever,” Smith said. “Acknowledging the effects of sequestration, we will have two Coast Guard ships from the U.S., and we will have a reduced presence from the band.”

Smith noted that the cutters Mackinaw and Mobile Bay will be making an appearance, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard Honor Guard and a new Hero-class patrol vessel from the Canadian Coast Guard.

“Our guests will not notice the changes we’ve made in light of the fiscal situation,” he said.

Festival-goers can also expect the National Memorial Service along the waterfront, the Grand Parade through town, the downtown carnival, various activities at Mulligan’s Hollow, entertainment at Waterfront Stadium and the grand finale fireworks show.

“We listen to our guests and try to bring back popular entertainment pieces, and see where we can improve on popular events,” Smith said.

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