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State Bailout Possible After Tall Ships Event Runs Aground Financially

Posted December 14, 2006
Updated December 15, 2006

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— The Tall Ships event that brought throngs of people to Beaufort over the Fourth of July weekend has left the state with a sea of unpaid bills.

Friends of the North Carolina Maritime Museum, which organized the event, released a report this week detailing problems with the event. The group lost control of costs and had to issue hundreds of refunds to angry ticket holders who never got to tour ships.

The poor planning and mismanagement led to more than $1.8 million in losses, the report said. Numerous vendors are still owed money more than five months later.

The group said Secretary of Cultural Resources Libba Evans promised to "make the debt go away" in exchange for transferring property along Gallants Channel to the state.

Evans disputed that claim, noting the Friends group still has $900,000 in bills.

The non-profit recently deeded 36 acres along Gallants Channel to the state, but she said that was supposed to happen years ago. She said she learned in June that the Friends were also turning over more than $5 million in debt incurred for site improvements and event costs.

"I think we're not in a situation of bailing out organizers, but protecting our investment," Evans said.

The state remains committed to developing the Gallants Channel property, but the event's management troubles will make it harder to raise money and restore public trust, she said.

"There are a lot of well-intentioned people in Beaufort, North Carolina. They had a great idea. At some point, it went awry," she said.

Numerous lawmakers said there is plenty of blame to go around regarding the Tall Ships losses.

"It's sad, and I think Cultural Resources needs to look at its management," said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake. "I'm in favor of Tall Ships -- I like to watch them -- but I didn't have any business subsidizing that event."

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