Planning resumes on 400th events

Dispute settled, but key organizer quits

A flap over who’s in charge of Plymouth’s 400th-anniversary celebration has stalled planning efforts over the past few months and prompted the person heading two key organizing committees to resign.

The dispute has been settled, said town officials, who hope the pace for planning Plymouth’s 2020 birthday bash will once again pick up. But the tiff has left a bitter taste for some townspeople looking forward to participating in a grand celebration that organizers originally hoped would bring global attention to the community nicknamed America’s Hometown.

At the center of the turmoil was Ken Tavares, who was acting chairman of the Plymouth 400th Anniversary Committee and president of the not-for-profit Plymouth 400th Inc., two panels that were supposed to work together but apparently had fallen into some disarray.


Tavares ultimately resigned from both panels two weeks ago, taking with him considerable expertise on planning large celebrations.

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“There were philosophical differences,’’ Tavares, a former longtime selectman who has organized and raised money for Plymouth’s July Fourth festivities for several years, said in an interview. “I decided to resign, but I wish them well.’’

The disagreement dates back to last fall, when Tavares approached the Board of Selectmen about disbanding the Plymouth 400th Anniversary Committee, which was established by selectmen in 2008 at the urging of the Rev. Peter Gomes, a charismatic Harvard professor and Plymouth native who served as the panel’s chairman until his death in February 2011.

Gomes’s committee had set up Plymouth 400th Inc., with the blessing of the town, so money could be collected through fund-raising. The not-for-profit group met twice a month for planning, while the anniversary committee met far less frequently, and only twice in 2011.

At a meeting last July, members of Plymouth 400th Inc. agreed there was no need to have the anniversary committee because it was redundant. Membership on the two panels was essentially the same. Tavares agreed, as acting chairman, to ask the selectmen.


“It was assumed the not-for-profit was going to be the main driver for everything,’’ said Anthony Provenzano, a local lawyer and member of Plymouth 400th Inc. “The way it evolved was the not-for-profit would be finding the funding sources for the events it was planning.’’

With the help of Prosody Creative Services, a consulting firm that worked with Jamestown, Va., on its 400th anniversary in 2007, Plymouth 400th Inc. had established seven “signature’’ events that would start in November 2019 and end in late 2020.

The list includes an opening event on Nov. 19 focusing on the importance of spirituality in the founding and development of the colony. A May event, tentatively titled “May Flowers,’’ would tie in to natural history. In August, the town would celebrate the embarkation of the Pilgrims from the Netherlands, with heads of state invited to Plymouth, and a November bash would observe the anniversary of the signing of the Mayflower Compact.

The cost of the yearlong festivities has been estimated at about $15 million, with the town pitching in about $2 million of the total.

Tavares approached selectmen about disbanding the anniversary committee, saying planning would be less cumbersome with a single entity in charge. “It’s just cleaner,’’ he explained last week.


But selectmen vehemently opposed such a move.

Selectwoman Belinda Brewster, liaison to the two planning entities, summarized the board’s position: “If you allow a private nonprofit corporation that has no connection to the town to be in charge, the town couldn’t say ‘We don’t like what you’re doing,’ ’’ she said. “They could just answer, ‘We don’t care.’ ’’

Tavares argued that members of Plymouth 400th Inc. were well-known, longtime volunteers. Among them were local historians Jim and Peg Baker, business leaders in the local Chamber of Commerce, and tourist organizations. “These are not fly-by-nighters,’’ Tavares said.

While other members of Plymouth 400th Inc. acquiesced to the selectmen’s directive to continue with two committees, Tavares declined to relent, resigning instead. “I was really excited about working on the 400th, but these things happen,’’ he said.

Brewster and Provenzano, meanwhile, have worked out the respective roles of the two panels. “They will plan their seven major events and focus on fund-raising and merchandising,’’ Brewster said of the not-for-profit. “The town committee will be the umbrella working with the various groups that want to participate.’’

Brewster said Plimoth Plantation, for example, might want to reenact the first Thanksgiving in 2021, extending beyond the 2020 time frame previously set by Plymouth 400th Inc.

And, she said, “We’re hoping the Antiquarian Society and Pilgrim Hall Museum may take the lead to celebrate the landing of the Pilgrims in December 2020. That wasn’t on the list of the seven signature events.’’

The town’s committee will also be asked to focus on “legacy’’ projects.

“The not-for-profit wasn’t asking, ‘What is Plymouth going to look like in 2021?’ ’’ Brewster said. “One of our goals is to get Burial Hill completely restored. It’s where the Pilgrims and their descendants are buried and where their stories are told.’’

Brewster and Provenzano recently presented the missions and responsibilities of the two planning groups to selectmen.

“It was unfortunate Ken Tavares stepped down, but I think it’s heading in a positive direction now,’’ said selectmen chairman William Hallisey last week. “I think we’ll see things moving a little quicker now that roles have been established.’’

Hallisey said Plymouth 400th Inc. has a daunting task ahead.

“There’s a lot of money to be raised, and they’ve got to get people on board and inspired,’’ he said.

Assistant Town Manager Melissa Arrighi said the town has chipped in small amounts to date. “Two years ago, the town set aside $45,000,’’ he said. Part of the amount was used to hire the Prosody consultants. “We have about $10,000 set aside in fiscal 2012.’’

The state Office of Travel and Tourism provided a little financial help to the town last week, awarding a $10,000 grant to be used toward promotion of the celebration. The bulk of the funding will have to be raised through private donations.

“We have no identified funding sources for the celebration and we didn’t put anything in the fiscal 2013 budget,’’ Arrighi said. “Like many things, it comes down to the almighty dollar, and we don’t want to do it on the backs of residents.’’

She said the recent turmoil, and its resolution, seems to have reenergized volunteers. “Both groups are enthusiastic,’’ she said. “I hope that lasts for the next eight years.’’

Christine Legere can be reached at