Railroad Days Committee members Donna Mills and Cindy Wood recently appeared before the city council to request support from the city for this year’s Railroad Days.
In an earlier report to the council, Wood had summarized the previous year’s Railroad Days finances, which had ended in a $1,500 deficit for the event. The city had covered that final outstanding invoice and requested that the committee re-appear after the six-month financial report.Reappear they did. Mills addressed the council, “Total annual investment cost of Railroad Days—at least for the last couple of years—has been in excess of $30,000. We’ve trimmed everywhere we could and are trying to do economies of scale; we’re working with John Steffanic, trying to piggyback on things that are happening at the county fair.” She went on to say, “Our town, like many small towns, is struggling right now to hold on to the few annual events that market Portola as a visitor attraction. In reality, it’s just not possible to put on an event of this magnitude without the continued support of benevolent local and corporate sponsors.”
Even with volunteer labor and fundraising events, Railroad Days relied on merchant contributions and donations from private citizens and needed the support of the city of Portola, she said, but added that interest in the event has grown in recent years and Railroad Days had become “a signature event” for the town of Portola.
The Railroad Days Committee was working with Graeagle Plumas Alliance, the Western Pacific Railroad Museum of Portola, and other organizations to showcase the rail industry and its historical importance to the town. She requested support in the amount of $10,000.
Wood added that this year was the 100th anniversary of the first passenger train over the Western Pacific line and that the date just happened to coincide with Railroad Days, making it a part of a special anniversary train (see associated story) that would bring 400 people to the festival as well as a PBS film crew for the series “Tracks Ahead.”
‘Something special’s coming through here,” she said.
She added, “This is going nationwide on TV and will be good advertising for the following Railroad Days. We’ll benefit now and then again when it airs on TV.”
Council member Bill Kennedy said he would vote for the $10,000 grant, but felt that for the event to benefit the local economy, the local businesses needed to be open. He hadn’t noticed they were making an effort to be open during the celebration.
“We’ve been hit by one thing after another. We’ve watched the doors of community stores and shops close and we’ve watched families move and this is something we can get excited about. There’s an outside interest coming in and it’s an opportunity,” Mills said.
She pointed out there was currently no merchant group in Portola and the Railroad Days Committee now acted as an umbrella organization for businesses. She agreed stores needed to be open to benefit.
City Manager Jim Murphy said the city had struggled with businesses on this point for the past 14 years of his involvement. He said businesses did not feel the celebration benefited them, aside from lodging and food purveyors.
Cindy Wood pointed out the committee was in better financial shape going into this fiscal year than it had been in years past, and Murphy agreed.
Murphy also pointed out the city had given financial grants twice per year in the past, amounting to a total of $20,000.
Council member Curt McBride enthused, “We’ve got one heck of an opportunity with that train coming in August. We need to go national with this thing.”
He made a motion to fund $5,000 this fiscal year, plus the $1,500 the city had covered from last year’s event and another $5,000 in the new fiscal year this summer.
The motion passed unanimously.
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