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Pirate festival scales down this year

by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Pirate crew members in full costume welcome festival goers at last years Portland Pirate Festival in St. Helens. The event will be smaller this year as organizers rest and regroup. The Portland Pirate Festival won’t be coming in full force to St. Helens this year, but a one-day event is in the works, say festival organizers.

The city of St. Helens will likely not feel any sort of financial blow from a smaller Pirate Festival this year, said Tourism Director Chris Finks. The pirate group was only paying the city approximately $200 in permitting fees.

“That’s not where the impact is,” Finks said. “If you’re a restaurant or a hotel, that’s a different scenario.”

While Columbia County, like many Oregon counties, holds a number of festivals each year, the Portland Pirate Festival is one of the few that has drawn substantial out-of-town crowds to St. Helens. Last year, the second year the festival had been staged in St. Helens, it attracted approximately 12,000 people. The Maritime Heritage Festival, another summertime, waterfront event in St. Helens, drew in roughly 9,000 people last year, Finks said.

“We’re still trying to formulate what the event is going to be [this year],” said Shuhe Hawkins, the Portland Pirate Festival’s managing director. He describes this year’s event as “the pirate festival in miniature.”

The event, tentatively scheduled for August 31 and titled “Rendezvous with the Royaliste,” will feature the tall ship turned pirate ship replica, the Royaliste.

Hawkins said a number of unforeseeable events, including the need for extensive repairs to the Royaliste after the Portland Sternwheeler crushed it against the St. Helens public docks at the Maritime Heritage Festival last summer, as well as the unexpected death of crew member Cindy Smith in October, contributed to the decision to take a break from the full festival this year.

Hawkins and general manager Kate Larsen are the two organizing forces behind the festival. They hope to throw a huge event next year to make up for the smaller event this year, Hawkins said.

“It’s a lot of work to throw a party for 12,000 people year after year,” Finks said, adding he is confident the event will be back as promised in 2014.

“They want to remain here,” he said. “They’ve told me that.” As to the decision to scale back this year, he said, “It’s an internal thing with them and it has nothing to do with St. Helens at all.”

“We’ve been bring trying to help them a lot to make things easier for them,” he added.

The city has secured an agreement with Boise to allow the pirates use of waterfront land next to the docks. The land, owned by Boise and the site of the company’s old veneer plant, is for sale, but has been used by the city in the past for various waterfront events.