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Will Port Pirate Fest be Lost at Sea?

The fate of the Port Washington Pirate Festival rests in limbo after the organizer and city officials go head-to-head regarding several problems with the event and communication between the two parties.

Port Washington Pirate Festival has hit rocky waters as the event organizer and city officials clashed on Tuesday night about the event's structure and reputation.

City Administrator Mark Grams and Mayor Tom Mlada seemed ready to watch event organizer Kim McCulloch walk the plank, saying McCulloch has not complied with a number of city requests and deadlines meant to coordinate efforts between her and the city as well as avoid problems from past years.

On top of that, the festival also has outstanding bills owed to vendors, and the city is upset by the number of calls its received from those parties hoping to be paid; many people don't understand the city isn't actually in charge of the event.

  • Related: Belly Dancers Suing Pirate Festival for Money Owed

"I've received personally angry e-mails from vendors," Mlada said. "Unless people know Kim personally they don't associate this event — good or bad — with Kim, they associate it with Port Washington."

McCulloch said she's personally funded much of the festival, and medical bills from two separate situations this year have made her unable to pay those vendors thus far; she's working on taking care of it.

Past festival problems also debated

City officials were also frustrated by the June 2012 festival, during which security issues arised, garbage was not cleared by Monday (the festival ends Sunday) and the council dealt with last-minute approvals needed for live animals at the festival. They met with McCulloch in July, hoping to get off to a better start.

"I'm kind of throwing up my hands … we've asked for certain things. We just haven't received them," Grams said. Recently, Grams and Mlada had met with McCulloch to again discuss the festival, during which city officials said they requested the names and contact information for others involved in the process so that they could all be on the same page; they said McCulloch did not provide this information by the date they requested.

McCulloch refuted much of what officials said during Tuesday night's meeting, adding that she's not willing to give all her business plans to someone who she claims threatened her several times — refering to Grams' alleged attempts to have someone else run the festival.

"We do really try, and you have to understand that there's many people who didn't see how the sausage was made. And it was a wonderful event," McCulloch said. She also pointed to the festival's growing success since its first year —begining with an attendance of about 3,000 and one tent to a larger festival with a 30,000 attendance in 2012.

McCulloch told the Ozaukee Press after the meeting that she would speak to the event's committee — but at this point she did not feel she was willing to move forward with the event.

City officials suggested the idea of looking for someone else to coordinate the event, but McCulloch said she owns the rights to the business.

The Port Washington Pirate Festival Facebook page is already promoting this year's June 7-9 dates, seeking volunteers, entertainers and re-enactors. Much of this information was posted on Tuesday or sooner.

Ryan February 10, 2013 at 01:04 PM
It needs to be run by a professional event company not an amateur. Obviously props need to go to the creator but this event has grown beyond their limitations. They are in way over their head. Pass the baton to someone else. The city needs this event. The other businesses town do as well. The only thing worse than no Pirate Fest is a poorly run Pirate Fest.
Vic February 10, 2013 at 06:08 PM
The city needs a festival, I just don't care for the pirate theme. Not like it has anything to do with high school anyway. Celebrating criminal element of the society? Are the Somalis represented? I like "Looter Days"...
Julia February 10, 2013 at 09:11 PM
This is the most unique festival for Port Washington, for both families and adults. I heard the great pirate ships from a few years ago wouldn't come back because of payment disputes too. Somebody else should take this over.
CTCMom2009 February 11, 2013 at 05:00 PM
I enjoy Pirate Fest and so does my son. I think it would be a loss if it did not happen this year.
Kathy February 11, 2013 at 09:13 PM
You never as a child dressed up as a Pirate? There are no Halloween Pirate costumes either eh? Of course what a failure the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise of movies has been. I don't recall the local festival here ever promoting raping and pillaging. If thats the mindset (and you sir are entitled to you're opinion) then perhaps the Bristol Renaissance Fair should be shut down as well. Comparing Pirate festival to Somalia?? Really? Shock and Awe! *burp* :)
Vic February 13, 2013 at 05:54 PM
Yes, this is the celebration of the cute, cuddly pirates as idealized by Disney. As to unpaid bills owed to vendors - Kim's mother will cover those and all will be well again.
Gregg Patz April 09, 2013 at 07:46 PM
We travel a long distance each year to attend this event. It is really sad to hear that the organizer and the city cannot work together to keep this event up and running. We make the annual voyage to Port Washington every year to enjoy this event, now somehow summer will just not be the same.
Didactic Futurist April 22, 2013 at 07:23 PM
For those of you that love "pirate ships" the American Sail Training Association has up to twenty tall ships on the Great Lakes this year. They will be in Duluth, Green Bay, Chicago and Bay City this year, among some other stops. Go to http://www.sailtraining.org/ for more information.
Didactic Futurist May 29, 2013 at 06:47 PM
Vic, I don't know where you got your information but no one has made good against the bounced checks from last year - except when they sued for it.

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