Parking lot rumble - Weirs Action Committee, Motorcycle Week Association both ask to run profitable concession

LACONIA — A tug-of-war between the Weirs Action Committee, and the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association has erupted over the right to operate the parking concession at the lot in Endicott Rock Park during the 94th running of Motorcycle Week next June. This week both organizations pitched competing bids for the concession to the Parks and Recreation Commission, which tabled the matter until its next meeting in August.

The Weirs Action Committee has operated the concession for the past 21 years, parking some 1,200 motorcycles each day and raising between $25,000 and $30,000 annually to fund its projects, both permanent and seasonal, to beautify The Weirs. Beset with financial challenges, the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association now eyes the parking concession as an opportunity to raise funds.

"I'm not aware that two groups have asked to use the same facility at the same time before," Kevin Dunleavy, director of parks and recreation, told the five Parks and Recreation commissioners. Although the commission hears facility use requests in the first instance, it must refer those seeking to raise funds in excess of $2,000 to the City Council for final approval.

When Mitch Hamel, who chairs the commission, asked if the two organizations had discussed sharing the concession, Joe Driscoll III, speaking for the Weirs Action Committee, replied that there have been no formal conversations.

Speaking for the committee, Joe Driscoll III emphasized that the parking concession has been its principal source of funds. "The money raised goes right back into the city," he said. "Mostly into The Weirs, but also to other city departments. He told the commission the committee is the official sponsor of Endicott Rock State Park and contributed the statue of "Captain Jack," the Native American atop the rock. In addition, he said that the committee purchased the gazebo in the park, landscaped the roundabout, partners with the city in recycling, maintains the Weirs Beach sign and plants hanging baskets every summer.

Driscoll III called the committee "a group of volunteers, a community organization giving back to the community," and said "We would like to keep on doing what we've been doing for 21 years."

Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, explained that its mission is to promote and organize the rally and "make it profitable for the businesses that want to take part in it." He said that a number of nonprofit organizations, including the Weirs Action Committee, benefit from the rally, "but I haven't seen the businesses and nonprofits offer to invest in promoting Motorcycle Week. They all profit from what the association does."

Cynthia Makris of the Naswa Resort, the president of the association and member of the Weirs Action Committee, echoed St. Clair. "A lot of money is made off of Motorcycle Week," she said. "We all make money. Yet no one contributes to the event." She reminded the commission that the Weirs Action Committee left the association, then, referring to the parking concession, added "but they make that money because of Motorcycle Week."

Makris told the commission that funding from sponsorships has diminished as the number of motorcycle rallies has grown to close to 700 nationally. The association, she continued, is continuing to seek more financial support from the state, but must also explore other means of raising money, like the parking concession.

Judy Krahulec, a longtime member and past president of the committee, told the Parks and Recreation Commission that the rift between the two organizations opened amid a dispute over the membership of the Weirs Action Committee in the association. She said that when the association found itself in debt it raised the membership dues. "The whole discussion began when the Weirs Action Committee was asked to pay $5,000," she said."That's when the rumors that they were going after the parking began."

Krahulec's recollection is confirmed by minutes of meetings of the board of directors of the association in 2014. At the time, the board consisted of representatives of the city of Laconia, town of Meredith, Naswa Resort, Laconia Roadhouse, Half Moon Enterprises, attorney Matt Lahey, South End Media, Hot Leathers Inc. and the Weirs Action Committee. In the summer of 2014, the directors decided to raise the membership dues from $2,000 to $5,000 a year to address its financial problems.

The Weirs Action Committee balked. In August, Joe Driscoll, Driscoll III's father, who represented the committee on the board of the association, told the directors that the committee would not pay more than $3,000. Although the committee declined to pay the increased dues, Driscoll remained on the board, serving as its vice president.

When the board met at the Naswa resort on the morning of Oct. 9, 2014, the issue of membership dues was left in limbo, but he parking concession came to the fore. Rich Ray of Faro's Italian Grille, representing the Laconia Roadhouse, asked how the parking concession was awarded, and was recorded to have said "It could be a possible revenue source for the association to pursue." Driscoll said that if the Weirs Action Committee lost the parking concession "It would kill their association."

After a lengthy discussion, the board agreed to revisit the question of dues at its meeting by considering a fee of $3,000 for nonprofit members on the understanding stated in the minutes that "if the board does not allow WAC to contribute $3,000 for dues, then WAC would no longer be a member of the board and the Association would potentially apply to use some or all of the lot for the 2016 rally."

When the minutes were circulated, Jennifer Anderson, the director of the association and secretary of the board, attached a note reading "This was a very lengthy meeting with a lot of discussion. There was a minor issue related to the Weirs Action Committee that is discussed in the minutes but what isn't mentioned in the minutes is that Joe Driscoll did leave the meeting abruptly due to this heated discussion."

Although the minutes do not record Driscoll leaving the meeting, neither do they mention him after his response to the prospect of the Weirs Action Committee losing the parking concession.

Gilford Finance Director Ruggles going to Bow

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — He'll still be the town crier at Old Home Days and he'll still be active in the Thompson-Ames Historic Society, but as of July 26, Geoff Ruggles will no longer be Gilford's finance director.

07-20 Geoff Ruggles

Ruggles said Tuesday that he has accepted the same job with the town of Bow and will begin as their finance director on Aug. 1.

"I guess it took to my eighth year for me to scratch my seven-year itch," he said.

Ruggles came to Gilford as the finance director eight years ago, although he had worked there in the past. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Management Information Systems and a minor in accounting.

When asked what his biggest accomplishment in Gilford was, he said it was probably converting to a new software system and the development of the current budget format that the Budget Committee seems to like.

He added that he likes doing the monthly financial update for the Board of Selectmen and knows its members appreciated it.

"But crunching numbers is crunching numbers. What can I say?" he added.

He said he is getting a slight raise by going to Bow but said what he really wanted was a change of scenery and, most importantly, a new challenge.

Bow, he said, has about 8,000 people and about a $15 million annual budget, which is slightly bigger than Gilford's. He said he knows and likes the Bow town manager and, during his Muni-Smart days, he became familiar with the way the town handles its finances.

"I know the area, how the town is staffed and how they interact with each other," he said. Ruggles added that Bow is in the final stages of building a new municipal safety building and they liked that he had just been through the same process with Gilford.

Ruggles said that he will continue to live in Gilford for the foreseeable future but likes the idea of working closer to Concord.

"If I want to see a show or a play, then I'm closer to that," he said.

He said he will miss the many people he had worked with with in the town and its various committees and boards but said he will still be around for Gilford's social and historical events.

New convenience store owners open early so customers can gas up in Ashland

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

ASHLAND — It was a case of Racing Mart Fuels to the rescue last week as the new owners of the former Cumberland Farms store on Main Street moved up their planned opening to Friday in order to order to accommodate people who want to buy gas locally.
With gas pumps at both the Irving and Mobil stations located just off Exit 24 from Interstate 93 shut down and the closing of the Cumberland Farms pumps last Wednesday there was no place in town for locals, or tourists for that matter, to buy gasoline.
"All the people who saw us in the store wanted us to open as soon as possible," said Devyani Patel, who with her husband, Pev, are managing the Racing Mart Fuels store. She said they had not planned to open for another week, but once they heard the requests for a place where local customers could gas up, they decided to open last Friday.
"We've still got a lot of things we want to do in the store to make it into the place we want it to be, but we thought it was important to the town for us to open or gas pumps as soon as possible," said Patel.
Her husband said that Racing Mart Fuels has four convenience stores in Massachusetts and that his brother, Arpit, heads the family business.
"The whole family is involved in the business and we all work together to make it a success." he says. The Patels are originally from the Indian state of Gujarart, just north of Mumbai on India's west coast.
Work is underway on replacing the gas pumps and underground storage tank at the Irving station, which is expected to reopen its pumps the the second week of August. Its convenience store remain open. State legislation required all gas tanks to meet stricter standards this year.
The Mobil station’s convenience store also remains open while replacing the underground tanks and gas pumps are expected to reopen in a few weeks.

 07-20 Patels at Ashland gas station

Pev and Devyani Patel opened their Racing Mart Fuels at the former Cumberland Farm store in Ashland last Friday, a week earlier than scheduled, in response to customer requests to have a place in town where they could buy gas. The town’s other two convenience store gas pumps remain closed for updating but stores are open. (Roger Amsden/ for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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