August 8, 2023
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The Historic Onancock School is first and foremost an art center that rents studio space for a variety of artists working in various art forms. So when the Friends of Onancock School (FOS) announced their intention to build a performance pavilion on the school property people naturally envisioned a concert shell showcasing local musicians and their art. This is clearly not the case as they revealed in a neighborhood meeting last December, where they promoted the project as a means of generating much needed money for repairs and improvements to the school building. In fact, this is a commercial project and its about money, not art.

Onancock Mayor Fletcher Fosque and a majority of the Town Council seem to be determined to see this facility built, likely seeing it as a solution to the millions of dollars needed for repairs to the school, which the town owns, and a way to get this “monkey” off their backs.

Putting aside the issue of whether the FOS has the funds in hand to build the pavilion (they say they do, but in their notes from an October meeting speak of the need to raise between $650 and $750,000 for the project) the real financial questions arise from their projections for profit from the events held at the facility.

Their five-year operating plan provides for 8 events in year one, 10 in year two, and 20 in years three, four, and five. Their financial projections are based on ticket prices averaging over $42 in the first year and topping $54 in the fifth year and audience sizes ranging from 300 to 600 people per performance. These are steep prices for a chance to sit on a blanket or the lawn chair you bring with you, just a few yards from a salt marsh, where lots of our notorious Eastern Shore mosquitos breed.

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Ticketmaster’s 2014 Live Event Attendee Study found that almost 80% of concertgoers were between the ages of 18 to 54. In Accomack County (population 33,388 in 2021) around 15,000 people fall into that age demographic. With a median income of just $50,600 at least half of this group are living from paycheck to paycheck, and a $40+ ticket is simply out of reach. With this in mind, the HOS projections call for selling 8800 tickets per year in years three and four and 10,500 tickets in year five. Assuming the half of residents potentially have the discretionary income, the FOS expects to sell at least one ticket to every one of them.

And don’t expect the tourists to save the day. Cape Charles has a lively summer population. Chincoteague has a lively summer population. Onancock? Not so much. It is common sense that the tourists will attend the free concerts in these towns during the summer months, and go back home after Labor Day.

If the Mayor and Town Council would take off their rose-colored glasses they would see this project for what it is; a boondoggle that will raise no funds for the school, and ultimately end up costing the taxpayers of Onancock. Those of us who live in the confines of the Town of Onancock pay a hefty premium in the form of additional real estate and personal property taxes. Is it too much to ask for our elected officials to protect their constituents from pie-in-the-sky projects that will ultimately end up as another millstone around the Town’s neck?

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February 29, 2024, 8:11 pm
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