Wine festival gains support

Business leaders say revenue and tourism outweigh concerns

November 19, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County business leaders offered their support yesterday for the Maryland Wine Festival, an annual event that generates about $100,000 in revenue for the county and draws nearly 25,000 visitors to the farm museum.

County officials have signed a contract for a 17th festival next year, but plans for 2001 remain unsettled. In its quarterly meeting yesterday, the Carroll County Economic Development Commission unanimously recommended that the county continue to sponsor the event.

"The return on investment is overwhelming, and there is a significant impact within the community and benefits for local restaurants and businesses," said Melvin Mills, owner of Mills' Communications Inc. in Westminster. "I would hate to see this premier event evaporate from our community."

Westminster Councilman Kevin Dayhoff called the festival "a paradigm that the entire mid-Atlantic region follows."

"It definitely promotes economic development," said Dayhoff. "It has a positive impact not just for Westminster, but for all the municipalities."

Despite the benefits, Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier have expressed opposition to the use of county property and public sponsorship of an event that highlights alcohol.

"The wine festival is a great event, but our policy says no alcohol on public property," said Frazier, who promised to weigh all the facts before making a final decision. "To me, the monetary part is not that persuasive. Just because money lands on the table does not mean we don't do the right thing."

Dell has said that he has "a problem with this being a government responsibility, totally planned and operated by the county."

Frazier said she would prefer that the Association of Maryland Wineries, a group of 10 wine producers, take responsibility for the festival. It costs the county about $10,000 to staff the event each year.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge supports the two-day festival and wants it to continue at the museum.

"The museum grounds enhance everything," said Gouge. "For organization and ambience, no place would be the same. People of the county are very vocal that this is a good project. It is a nice affair, not rowdy at all."

She said she recognizes her colleagues' concerns, but stressed the positives of the event.

"I know where they are coming from. We have programs for drug and alcohol abuse, and then we have a wine festival," said Gouge. "But these are two totally different programs coming from two totally different purposes. The festival is closely monitored. It is a time to enjoy and taste, not a time to overindulge."

The festival also means food vendors, artisans and entertainment. It provides fund-raising opportunities for several nonprofit organizations, said Martin K. P. Hill, a Manchester developer.

"You can count the dollars going into causes that would otherwise need funding from other sources," said Hill.

Although Carroll's festival is the first, largest and most popular in the state, several other counties, including Baltimore and Howard, sponsor similar events. If Carroll loses control of its festival, Gouge said she is certain another county would step in and "snap it up."

"We need to send a strong message to all wineries now," said Gouge, referring to the county's commitment. "There a lot of questions in everyone's mind."

Proponents say the festival introduces tourists to Carroll County. It is listed among the American Bus Association's top 100 events, and local inns are usually filled well in advance.

Dr. Robert Scott, a Westminster orthodontist and member of the Maryland Grape Growers Association, also strongly recommended promoting the festival.

"We should support and enhance grape growing," said Scott. "Wine production is on the increase worldwide. Research indicates wine in moderation is a positive health factor."

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