Farm Group Floats Plan For Huge Katama Concert

By IAN FEIN

The FARM Institute angered many of its new neighbors this week with a plan to hold a two-night summer fundraising concert for as many as 10,000 people and 2,200 cars parked on Katama Farm.

The institute officially moves into the historic town-owned farm tomorrow.

The Edgartown conservation commission, which controls Katama Farm and signed a 10-year lease with the institute for the land only two months ago, will hold a special meeting on Wednesday at 6 p.m. to vote on the request.

If approved by the commission, the proposal will still have to face the scrutiny of selectmen.

FARM Institute executive director John Curelli said he wants to model the event after the Livestock '95 concert, a benefit for the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society headlined by James Taylor and Carly Simon.

That concert, held in August 1995 at the Agricultural Hall fairgrounds in West Tisbury, raised $200,000 to help pay off the society's new barn.

A nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching children about agriculture, the FARM Institute began operating at Herring Creek Farm in July 2001. The organization is now looking for funds to undergo a series of ambitious capital projects at its home on Katama Farm.

"We have great plans for renovating the farm, but it takes a lot of money," Mr. Curelli said at a conservation commission hearing this week. "When you combine two of the least profitable businesses - farming and education - it's always a challenge. We see this concert as a potential way to raise substantial funds."

Mr. Curelli hired concert producer Ted Cammann, who organized the Livestock event, to help put together the Katama Farm concert. He would not disclose how much the institute is paying Mr. Cammann.

At the commission hearing this week, Mr. Cammann and Mr. Curelli presented some of the details of their proposal to commissioners and neighbors, but left many other questions unanswered. Selectmen Margaret Serpa and Michael Donaroma were also in attendance at the hearing, though neither spoke.

Mr. Curelli said the concert and parking area would be limited to 25 acres at the northwest section of the 200-acre farm. Neither he nor Mr. Cammann would say which performers they intended to book for the concert, or how much money they planned to charge for tickets. They did not have specific times or dates for the event, but said they would like to hold it midweek in early August.

Mr. Cammann, who served as Mr. Taylor's tour manager for many years, said that although the Island icon was not available for the event, Ms. Simon was still a possibility, and that he was speaking to other artists of similar caliber.

When asked directly which musicians he was considering, Mr. Cammann replied: "I could drop names, but that's not going to do any good."

The Katama residents who attended the hearing were visibly displeased with their new neighbors' proposal, and reminded commissioners of problems that arose during the Big Apple Circus on Katama Farm years ago. Edgartown police chief Paul Condlin, who lives on Katama Farm Road, voiced a number of reservations he had with the proposal from a public safety standpoint.

Mr. Cammann tried to assuage neighbors' concerns by citing the success of the Livestock event, but town residents told Mr. Cammann that the farm is much different than the Agricultural Society fairgrounds.

"The Ag Hall is set up to handle 10,000 people at the fair every year. Katama Farm is not," said Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnall, who keeps a horse at the farm. "I don't think you're doing the community of Edgartown any good by attracting that many people at that time of year."

Katama Road resident Seth Welcom, who two years ago started a group called Save Katama Farm and waged a court battle in a failed effort to keep the FARM Institute out of the town-owned farm, also spoke against the plan.

"My major concern is the strain it's going to put on this region of the town. It's a residential area, and this is a major commercial event," he said from his Katama home yesterday. "The town didn't buy this land, the people of Edgartown bought it. Was this the vision they had for the land? I tend to think not. Pretty soon they'll have to change the name from Katama Farm to Katama Fairgrounds."

The conservation commission has struggled to find a stable tenant for Katama Farm ever since the town obtained the land in 1979. Commissioners first selected FARM Institute as a tenant in March 2003, but it took almost another two full years for the groups to sign a lease.

The FARM Institute struggled to sell its Herring Creek property, which sat on the real estate market for more than 15 months before a neighbor purchased it for $2.2 million in December. The institute was originally asking $5 million.

Mr. Curelli said this week that the institute, after paying off a $1 million mortgage on the Herring Creek property, was planning to spend another $4 million over the next five years for renovations and capital projects at Katama Farm. The bulk of that money, he said, would have to come from fundraising.

Mr. Welcom and other Katama residents have long said that the FARM Institute does not have the financial viability to continue its operations at Katama Farm.

"If the FARM Institute is looking for $4 million to $5 million, this [concert] is just going to be a drop in the bucket," Mr. Welcom said. "Where's the rest of the money going to come from?"

Mr. Curelli said the institute hoped to make a few hundred thousand dollars from the concert, and that if it goes well, the organization would like to host a similar event every year.

"We're committed to being good neighbors, because we're there for a long time," Mr. Curelli said, noting that the institute sent letters to neighbors notifying them of the concert proposal. "I don't think anybody was unreasonable with their concerns. This is a huge project, but I think it would be fun for the neighbors and the community."

The institute's request is for a two-night event because it would be more financially lucrative for the organization. But after specific concerns from Chief Condlin and conservation commissioners about stretching the concert out into a second night, Mr. Curelli offered to scale back his request to a single show.

It appeared unlikely that the commission would approve a two-night event.

"Speaking as the person who runs the beaches, I agree with [Chief Condlin]: Not more than one night," said commissioner Pamela Dolby. "We have no idea who you're booking, or who this concert will attract. I envision there will be people on the beach because the music will carry. We could have 2,000 people trying to spend the night down there."

Conservation commissioners delayed a vote on the concert until next week because they were missing three of their eight members on Wednesday.

Commissioners are also expected to vote on an Edgartown School request to host Circus Smirkus at Katama Farm in late July. The event would last three days and attract roughly 750 people.