Chamber files suit in festival fight

3 mins read

By Justin Jarrett

The battle over two of Beaufort’s favorite fall festivals escalated last week when the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Beaufort.

The fight began when the City of Beaufort filed for the trademarks for the Beaufort Shrimp Festival and Taste of Beaufort last year and subsequently denied the Chamber’s request to hold the Shrimp Festival at Waterfront Park next month. The Chamber’s suit alleges the City made false representations when applying for the trademarks and violated the Chamber’s constitutional rights when denying the permit in July.

The Chamber also claims it was asked to pay 10 percent of its event profits in exchange for use of Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, which it says is more than any other organization has been charged. 

In an email statement through attorney Ashley Twombley, Chamber President Blakely Williams said the Chamber made every possible effort to resolve the dispute without taking legal action, and an email string between representatives of the embattled entities shows the City declined the Chamber’s request for arbitration until after this year’s Shrimp Festival, which the City plans to hold Oct. 5-6.

“The Chamber was left with a stark choice,” Williams’ statement said. “Either bow to the City’s demand or stand up for what we believe is right, just and lawful.” 

The email from Williams requesting arbitration acknowledged that such a meeting might not be feasible before this year’s festival and said, “If the City commits to arbitration quickly, the Chamber would be willing to agree to allow the October 5, 2018, Beaufort Shrimp Festival to take place without challenge.” The message further stated that “allowing the event to take place without challenge could harm the Chamber’s position” and asked for a binding agreement to arbitration no later than Sept. 12, after which point the Chamber would move forward with legal action.

City Manager Bill Prokop says the City was surprised by the lawsuit.

“According to the Chamber, it was unable to come to any agreement with the City. We believe it is better stated that the Chamber has been unwilling to sit down with the City and discuss how we can move forward and work together,” City Manager Bill Prokop said in a statement. “The Chamber states that its goal is to be an advocate for its members. We believe the interests of both the Chamber’s members and the citizens of Beaufort would be better served by using member dues and taxpayer dollars on civic projects, infrastructure development and community improvements, not legal proceedings.”

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