News: Plan for Alternative Memorial Day DOA?

By Anne Newport Royall

Looks like that proposal for “Miami Beach Fest 2012” may be dead in the water.

“I was told the proposal was rejected,” Verdant Capital Board Member Barbara Guibard said when contacted about her company’s role in the gated beach-festival proposal

Town Hall Meeting organizer Commissioner Jerry Libbin has apparently distanced himself from the proposal and from the promoters. Questions concerning the participants, meeting and format were turned over to Keith Donner of the Donner Group, a Public Relations firm different from the one previously retained by the commissioner for the event.

When confronted with the criticism of the meeting, that, for example, required submitted questions written in advance and that the panel wasn’t utilized in addressing concerns of the community, Donner agreed that while many in the audience were “disappointed not to vent and rant, others approached Libbin post-meeting to thank him for not wasting their time” and holding a structured meeting that presented an alternative to Urban Beach Week and establishing the issues the weekend currently faces.

While Donner was adamant in having the record set straight, insisting several times the meeting “was not cancelled multiple times but postponed once,” he questioned the interest in covering the meeting at all. “Who cares?” he queried. “This is small town petty politics being covered by a small town petty newspaper.”

Describing the Commissioner’s efforts in driving solutions forward for the Memorial Day crisis, Donner said that “Libbin is pretty much done,” and indicated he’s turned all future contact between this festival and the City over to the city manager’s office.

The only person involved in promoting the replacement to Urban Beach Weekend, Miami Beach Fest 2012 was Patrick Grant. Grant shared a motivational story about being moved by the plight of his son, Trevor, going off to war and returning home battle-scarred and with little support trying to put his life together. Grant the elder was attracted by Miami Fest’s promise of bringing together some 200 thousand veterans and their families to honor Memorial Day, and to learn of the “green technology” marketing opportunities promoted by the gated, beach-party event.

Although a ‘multi-cultural’ music experience was presented at the Town Hall Meeting, the real attraction of the festival was a new air show for Miami-Dade County.

Not to be confused with the recent failed Becon Council plan to create a “Paris-type” air trade show that would have used Homestead Air Force Base and not made it over Miami Beach, this show would be all about the South Beach.

That’s where Ted Plana and Stan Smith come in, the two principals of the now-defunct Ft. Lauderdale Air and Sea Show, promoters of this new plan who have been traveling the country under the auspices of Wal-Mart to shop around air show concepts to cities and financing organizations.

Cue the Verdant Capital Group. Verdant is a venture capital firm focusing its investments developing domestic renewable energy resources (its website noted growth in Green Technology, Waste Management, Water Management, Real Estate Green Conversions, Renewable Energy Developments, Infrastructure Conversions and Aerospace “industry verticals”) They were keen on the idea of sponsoring an event to honor United States servicemen and their families, and having a large captive audience to promote the companies they invest in.

While acknowledging the ambition needed to pull off an event of this magnitude in under nine months, Eric Jergensen, CEO of Verdant, pledged his involvement—if the idea moves forward “between Miami Beach Fest 2012 and the City.” When asked if he had knowledge of our current Memorial Day state of activities, Jergensen’s voice, filled with confident, compassionate jargon a moment before suddenly moved several octaves higher. “We have done our research” to understanding that neighbors “are not too pleased with what is going on now,” and that “push back” has definitely occurred.

But the idea of marketing the companies he funds to 100,000 to 200,000 people seemed an idea well worth exploring. “We have expressed great interest in being a funding entity,” the CEO stated. “Verdant works with neighborhoods, we are sensitive to their desires, and our mission is to make them more sustainable.”

With many questions still looming, time is running short and backing the questionable Memorial Day festival looks headed for another year of the same old hand-wringing now and finger-pointing later.

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