Ferrysburg Mayor Dan Ruiter said City Council has scheduled a work session for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 5 to see if it's feasible to rekindle a proposal from Brad Boyink to hold his Holiday Road light show on the east end of the park.
Boyink presented his plans to city officials last week. But after strong opposition from Councilwoman Regina Sjoberg, Boyink withdrew his request.
The show was previously held in Spring Lake Township's Heather Park neighborhood prior to Boyink selling his house there. It was staged inside a Norton Shores strip mall this past December.
Boyink's plans for Coast Guard Park included five 10-by-12-foot buildings with facades replicating a 1950s downtown. The show was to feature more than 200,000 lights and raise funds for Special Olympics.
Boyink said he withdrew his request because it became clear that Sjoberg would do everything she could to make sure the show didn't happen there.
“It's not worth the battle,” he said at the July 15 meeting.
After raising traffic, safety and other concerns, Sjoberg cited a 1972 quit-claim deed that granted the park property from the federal government to the City of Ferrysburg. She said if the city leases the park to anything other than another government agency, it risks the property reverting back to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Ruiter called Boyink after that meeting and apologized.
The mayor said City Manager Craig Bessinger and city attorney George Bauer will be seeking a definitive interpretation from the federal government about the deed language before giving up on the opportunity to host the show that attracts about 70,000 visitors a year.
In a memo to council late last week, Bauer noted that use of the park "by third parties is permitted as long as it fits within the public park or public recreation categories, and as long as it does not involve a disposal of property by the city.” He cited park activities managed by the North Ottawa Recreation Authority as examples.
Bauer said when he drafted the original agreement between Holiday Road Charities Inc. and the city, he was not aware of the deed language and labeled the agreement a “lease.”
"My recommendation would be to revise the document to eliminate the reference to its being a 'lease' and send it to the Department of Interior for consideration of the nature of the proposed arrangement," Bauer wrote.
You can read Bauer's memo to city officials: Download the Related File (PDF) at the bottom of this story.
Ruiter said it is unknown how long the federal consultation will take.
“It could be a week, it could be a year,” he said. “I am hopeful that it could happen there (Coast Guard Park), but it still has to meet some workable parameters.”
Sjoberg said Tuesday that she will continue to oppose the synchronized light show at Coast Guard Park.
“I really don't think the problem is going to come from me,” she said. “It's going to come from the Department of the Interior and the businesses along the road that are going to be influenced by this traffic.”
Sjoberg said she thinks it's unfair some people have portrayed her as a “grinch that doesn't like Christmas” or support charities. She said neither is true.
“I actually thought of resigning because I'm so fed up dealing with people who aren't thinking clearly,” she said. “But I decided I'm not going to leave the field of battle that Mr. Boyink has created. I will speak my mind.”
Sjoberg said she didn't appreciate that Boyink did not prepare an alternative plan and that the Holiday Road Light Show Facebook page requests that people write to Ferrysburg leaders.
“He just assumed this would go through,” she said.
Sjoberg said there are a multitude of reasons the show should not be in Coast Guard Park, including zoning ordinance conflicts with Boyink's proposed buildings, which he wants to leave in the park for a children's playground area (the buildings would be locked). She said more than 1,000 cars a day would clog the area and cause problems for residents and oil and gasoline trucks that haul in that area 24 hours a day.
Sjoberg suggested Boyink purchase property north or south of town, or set up in Spring Lake Township's Rycenga Park or in Grand Haven.
Boyink said he is not actively seeking other sites at this time and hopes the show can land in the Tri-Cities area, possibly even Coast Guard Park.
“We're taking the high road here,” he said. “We're really not trying to create any kind of controversy. Ultimately, it's up to (Ferrysburg officials) to work out. If they reapproach us, we'll talk to them.”
Councilwoman Kathleen Kennedy said she is game for revisiting the issue.
“It was kind of disappointing to me that he withdrew everything at the (July 15) meeting,” Kennedy said. “I was leaning toward voting for it, with reservations about the traffic, but it sounded like he had that pretty well done. I was willing to try it for the first year and see how it went.
“Every one of us on that board had legitimate concerns, and Mr. Boyink heard them and answered them all,” Kennedy continued. “To quickly withdraw I think was unfair to him and unfair to us. I'm hoping we can discuss it in a more calm manner and I hope Regina can come to the table a little bit more open-minded.”
Boyink said he will need a go-ahead soon or the show will be postponed until next year because there won't be enough time to set it up.
“If something isn't pretty solid by the first or second week of August, forget it," he said. "Our hope is, if it doesn't happen this year, we'll find a suitable location in the future.”