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Public will weigh in on whether circus comes to town

December 08, 2010
The circus may be coming to town, but not until the public has its chance to weigh in.

Selectmen agreed to hold a public hearing Jan. 12 to listen to residents' thoughts on whether the Kelly-Miller Circus should perform in Gilford Village over the Fourth of July weekend.

During a Board of Selectmen meeting last Wednesday night, the Gilford Recreation Commission and Don Vachon of the American Legion Post 1 of Laconia continued a discussion from their previous meeting.

During the Nov. 1 Recreation Commission meeting, members voted down the American Legion's request, 3-2, to hold the circus in Gilford for two days of performances, with two shows each day in the early evening hours.

Recreation Parks and Recreation Director Herb Greene and commission members stated that they were mostly concerned over potential damage to the fields.

Vachon told selectmen he was not there to "disrespect" the commission or Recreation Department but to explain his stance and answer any questions the board may have.

"The Legion is looking for some ways to raise some additional funds for events we participate in and sponsor," explained Vachon. "This includes scholarships for students at the high school."

He added that the American Legion awarded a handful of Gilford High School students within the community between $2,000-$3,000 last year.

"Funds are drying out quickly in this economy. We are looking to hire a circus to keep some of these programs going on. We are looking for partnership (with the town)," said Vachon.

He said he believed the Kelly-Miller Circus would help the Legion raise about $3,000-$5,000 in funds as a result of the two-day circus.

"This would be a family oriented show, not to be confused with a carnival. The show starts, the show ends, and everybody leaves," said Vachon. "If there should be damage on the field, it would be replaced or fixed under the circus company's insurance."

Selectmen Gus Benavides asked of the circus company would have any hesitation in signing documents that would hold them responsible for damage on the field, or other conditions asked of the circus by the town.

Vachon said he believed that the company would not hesitate to sign any waivers.

He said extra staff members to man the event would be the Legion's responsibility, which would lesson the burden on the Recreation Department's staff, another concern of the commission.

Some Gilford police officers and fire department members would also need to be present on the scene.

"We are willing to pay people that need to be there. If it is required by the town, then we would have to pay for it," said Vachon.

Selectman John O'Brien suggested that the Legion look into utilizing the Meadows.

Vachon said he had already decided this would not be an ideal location because of a concern over the soil and rain, which could turn the field into a "mud fest."

After further questioning on the circus's other options, Vachon said that Laconia did have a chance to host the circus as well but denied the request because of concern for damage on the grounds of Opechee Park.

He stressed that the Legion went to both Gilford and Laconia at the same time, and that Laconia just happened to respond to the request first. He said Gilford was not a "back-up plan."

Benavides estimated that foot traffic in Gilford would be high these two set days in July, with about 2,400 spectators a day for two sold out shows, which can seat up to 1,200 people each, which makes for 4,800 people in all.

Although this is a large number Benavides also pointed out that Old Home Day brings in a large crowd every year, including the tents and concession stands set up on the Village Field.

Vachon said it was best to have the circus in a rural area for visibility and marketing purposes, and that parking would most likely be located in school parking lots.

Greene told the board Vachon had addressed most of the commission's concerns. He expressed that the biggest concern was damage to the field. Although he understood that the damage would be repaired at no cost to the town, he was concerned over how long these repairs would take and how this would work around summer programs scheduled at the field.

Greene said that he was also concerned over abutters to the Village area since the circus crew planned to arrive at their destination between 2 and 4 a.m.

Benavides said that while this was a good point, this could be further addressed perhaps by agreeing on certain hours for set-up. He also noted that abutters are well aware that they live on a street utilized often by the community.

Chair of the Recreation Commission Tom Francoeur said he "hated to be the Grinch" and felt that the circus was a great idea for Legion fundraising purposes, but his concerns over damage and overuse to the field outweighed the positives.

The selectmen voted in favor, 2-1, of holding a public hearing in January to further discuss the matter and to invite the public to speak.

The Kelly-Miller Circus would be scheduled for Saturday, July 2, and Sunday, July 3, in Gilford at 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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