After concerns arose last week about noise and crowding, a leadership development conference planned for early June in Oak Bluffs will change venues.
“To accommodate a much larger-than-expected group, we will relocate the conference to the Featherstone Center for the Arts,” Sean Findlen, a spokesman for The Partnership Inc., wrote in an email to the Gazette. A career mentoring firm dedicated to professional support in management and at executive levels for people of color, The Partnership is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. American Express chief executive officer Ken Chenault is the keynote speaker. Organizers had planned to hold the leadership conference at the Island Inn in Oak Bluffs. Between 300 and 400 people are expected to attend, a large increase over the last time The Partnership hosted its conference on the Island, 10 years ago.
Ann Smith, executive director of Featherstone, volunteered the use of the arts center’s Barnes Road campus following a lengthy debate before the Oak Bluffs selectmen late last week when the Harthaven Association objected to the planned use of a tent at the weekend conference. Ms. Smith had attended the meeting to request an annual entertainment license for Featherstone’s summer flea market and Musical Mondays series.
“We are happy to have them, we have the space available,” she told the Gazette. She stressed that she did not intend to take anything away from the Island Inn, and that it was rare for Featherstone to host such large private gatherings.
Organizers for The Partnership had first asked to put up a tent at the Island Inn during the weekend of June 7 to 9. Carol Fulp, president and chief executive officer of The Partnership, attended the selectmen’s meeting last Thursday to answer questions about the proposal.
Ms. Fulp, who has been an Island resident for 14 years, stressed that the event coordinators wanted to be sensitive to the neighboring homeowners.
“We want to make sure that we have an event that is totally respectful of the community,” she said.
Last year, amid strenuous objections from Harthaven residents, selectmen denied a request from the Harlem Fine Arts show to use tents on the property of Hooked restaurant, on the grounds that it was a zoning violation.
The Partnership’s leadership conference was planned for the Island Inn, adjacent to Hooked but on a different property. There was some confusion over why The Partnership’s proposed tent was different.
Board chairman Walter Vail and town administrator Robert Whritenour said town building inspector James Dunn had previously determined that a tent at the inn, which already hosts conferences, would not be an expansion of a nonconforming use. Mr. Whritenour said the determination was not a final say.
The tent item was on the agenda to offer residents a chance to voice their opinion on the matter, Mr. Vail said. A number of residents, many from neighboring Harthaven, spoke.
“It’s a commercial operation overextending its footprint in a residential location,” Harthaven Community Association president Alfred Woollacutt said.
“They have a meeting room that is capable of holding 200 people; I don’t know why they need a tent,” he also said, citing concerns about traffic overflow in the Island Inn and Hooked parking lot. Mrs. Fulp said most people attending the conference would arrive via public transit or taxi, and that she did not expect a large influx of private vehicles.
Island Inn proprietor Derek Tipton said the inn has hosted The Partnership five times in the past, including their 10-year anniversary event.
Selectman Gail Barmakian said she was concerned about the conference serving beer and wine during meals without a permit. The fee to attend the conference, which includes meals, could be interpreted as charging admissions, which would require a one or two-day liquor license, she said.
The board asked Ms. Fulp and her fellow organizers to apply for a one-day liquor license. Early this week the Partnership announced it would move the conference to Featherstone.