WOONSOCKET – Matt Moylan needed a game plan.
As fundraising chairman for the Woonsocket Main Street Block Party, he faced the daunting task of quickly raising $50,000 from individuals, small merchants and larger corporations to underwrite the bash.
In a city where the pool of potential donors has nearly been tapped out, Moylan knew it would be a challenge. But the solution turned out to be as plain as 140 light poles – the decorative ones on Main Street.
The managing partner of Ciro’s Tavern and a self-employed IT consultant is in the process of marketing the ornate fixtures as advertising space. Businesses can “adopt” a pole for $650, a price that allows them to fly their logo on a decorative banner hanging from a pole bracket for five months, along with a hanging basket of flowers.
The “adopt-a-pole” campaign is Moylan’s linchpin strategy for raising the funds to underwrite the sprawling block party planned for later this summer to mark the founding of the city 125 years ago. The event is the brainchild of Mayor Leo T. Fontaine, who quietly began rounding up volunteers to mark the quasquicentennial anniversary of Woonsocket’s incorporation months ago as an antidote to the seemingly endless torrent of bad news about the city’s financial straits.
Another big piece of the fundraising puzzle will be a series of themed parties, beginning with a “Woonsocket Rocket Party” at the Vintage restaurant on July 18, an event billed as “a night to salute those persons who are proud of their heritage.” The event will feature the house band, the Vintage Rhythm & Blue Ensemble, and as assortment of down-to-earth dishes with a distinctly local flavor.
There will be four more festive warmups before the big bash on Aug. 29, one each at River Falls, St. Anne’s Arts & Cultural Center, Chan’s and Christopher’s Restaurant. The price, just $10 for each of them, includes food, entertainment and a slice from an oversized cake that will commemorate a different theme for each event.
Between the preliminary events and the adopt-a-pole initiative, Moylan thinks he can get most of the way toward bankrolling the entire block party. The sprawling, one-night festival will feature 10 entertainment stages, classic cars, a motorcycle show, a display of military equipment, food, kids’ amusements and more on a half-mile stretch of downtown’s main drag, from Market Square to Monument Square.
“An event of this caliber will cost $50,000,” said Moylan. “I’ve been questioned about the timing of the event and whether or not we should be spending money on a block party.”
But Moylan says the event will draw nothing from the city’s budget and it’s needed to bring people together during a time of intense divisiveness fueled by the city’s fiscal strife.
“It’s all about unity,” says Albert Beauparlant Jr., a real estate entrepreneur who is reprising his role as chairman of Woonsocket’s centennial celebration in 1988 to head up the 125th.
In fact, says Beauparlant, the rocket ship cake planned for the Woonsocket Rocket party next week will be named “Unity.”
The cost of the mini-parties is to be borne entirely by the proprietors of the restaurants and directors of the organizations sponsoring them, he said. The price of admission is also being kept as low as possible in recognition of city’s humble roots because, says Beauparlant, he doesn’t want anyone who lives in the city to be priced out of the celebrations.
Letters have already been mailed out to potential donors seeking adoptees for the poles. The flower baskets were donated by Lowe’s in North Smithfield. At the end of the season, the baskets will be turned over to RiverzEdge Arts, which is launching a greenhouse nursery program in partnership with the city’s beautification committee, according to Beauparlant. The idea is to establish a homegrown resource for sprucing up the city’s traffic islands and parks with shrubs and flowers.
Moylan says some poles have already been adopted by business leaders who relish the opportunity to “stand proud” on behalf of city. Moylan isn’t sure how many poles will be adopted, but even if just 50 of the available spots are taken, the lion’s share of the tab for running the block party would be covered.
“We already bought ours,” said Call Publisher Mary Lynn Bosiak, the block party’s team leader for media and advertising. “We’ve been the paper of record for our city for the past 125 years, as long as the city has been here, and because of that we feel we need to play a major role.”
Beauparlant says organizing the event has been a yeoman’s chore, but Fontaine made it easier by giving him a solid group of capable helpers, including Moylan and Bosiak.
“Without these people to work with, I would be very, very nervous right now – and probably quite a bit behind schedule,” he says.
Anyone who wants to adopt a pole or is seeking more information about the program can contact Moylan by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo