Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff
The Razzamajazz could be docked indefinitely unless someone steps up to take over the annual operation and maintenance of the music barge.
In a letter to the city dated June 17, Stratford Lions Club president Tracey Leary said the local service club will not renew its contact with the city for the barge, leaving some uncertainty as to who will helm the floating stage next summer.
“We as a club are informing you now in order for you to have the time to find another service club or group to take the Razzamajazz over,” Leary added.
Prior to the five-year agreement with the Lions Club, the barge was controlled by the city’s tourism department, cruising Lake Victoria twice a week, providing a floating forum for a wide variety of musicians.
The barge fell into the hands of the Stratford Tourism Alliance when it was incorporated in 2007, but soon after the organization asked the city to find a replacement steward, claiming the barge did not fit within its mandate.
It was also the tourism alliance’s opinion at the time that while the Razzamajazz is well-liked locally, it is of little interest to tourists, particularly when Stratford Summer Music offers its own barge music.
The city maintained ownership and continued to hold liability insurance for the barge under its agreement with the Lions Club, which upon taking over increased the boat’s activity to three days week, making the Razzamajazz a common sight throughout June, July and August.
Today it operates Tuesday and Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons.
Lions member John Otten told the Gazette the barge cost the club roughly $5,000 a year on regular maintenance, and that with limited fundraising dollars, the club has decided to focus its resources on other important initiatives like providing services for the blind and visually impaired.
Otten indicated the club had hoped operating the barge would lead to increased visibility and a bump in membership, which didn’t happen.
The small membership also creates challenges when it comes to finding individuals to staff the barge throughout the summer when people are away on holidays, he added.
But Otten said the club has enjoyed operating the Razzamajazz and believes people in Stratford would be disappointed if it’s not out on the river next summer.
“When you’re on the barge and you have a musician on there you see the interaction (with the people on) the shore or walking through the park,” he added.
“I think if you were to say there’s no more Razzamajazz you’d have a real ruckus at City Hall.”
The issue caused a slight ripple when discussed at last week’s council meeting.
Coun. Paul Nickel said the barge should be a tourism initiative, and received support around the table to have the Stratford Tourism Alliance reconsider running the boat.
That came despite deputy mayor Frank Mark noting he was sure the organization would not be interested.
“I think the Razzamajazz is within their mandate, and I would like to get a response from them to give a rationale why it would not fall under a tourism mandate,” Nickel responded emphatically.
Coun. Bonnie Henderson added she thinks it’s important the boat remain in the city, and noted perhaps another service club would take it on if the tourism alliance is not interested.
Coun. Keith Culliton, meanwhile, noted he supported Nickel’s motion “one million per cent.”
Otten, who was not at the council meeting, said he believes the Razzamajazz “pretty much has a heartbeat of its own,” and that with the right financial backing, could operate seven days a week.
“There’s a few things with it you have to monitor, but otherwise it’s fully functional,” he said of the boat. “And it’s unique to Stratford.”