Another Successful Bioneers Conference Wraps Up Downtown

Bioneers by the Bay Ends with New Bedford Tour
By Don Cuddy

Kristyna Cermakova inspects a monarch butterfly released by breeder Una McGurk on Sunday at the Bioneers by the Bay conference in downtown New Bedford.David W. Oliveira/Standard-Times special

NEW BEDFORD — The curtain came down on the annual Bioneers by the Bay gathering in downtown New Bedford on Sunday afternoon and, as the participants departed, Desa Van Laarhoven, executive director of the Marion Institute, which presents the environmental conference, declared the three-day event an unqualified success.
“I think it’s the best yet. I’ve heard a lot of reaction from people who said the keynote speakers were unbelievable. We were shocked actually that we got more people than last year, given the economy,” she said, “And the majority came from out of town. I’d say it was 60-40 from out of town.”
This was the fifth year that the conference was held locally and its second in downtown New Bedford.
On Sunday afternoon, a trolley tour of the city conducted by Arthur Motta, executive director of the Southeastern Massachusetts Convention and Visitors Bureau, had passengers from all over the Northeast.
“Everyone was impressed with the city, and I think the Bioneers conference highlights what New Bedford has to offer,” he said.
“Whaling, for example, provides a lot of environmental lessons about the exhaustion of a natural resource.”
While the conference brought plenty of people into the historic district, some local business owners said that it had not provided them with any increased business. “It was a drop in the bucket really,” said Russell Kandalaft, co-owner of Freestone’s. “Less than a night at the Zeiterion. It’s self-contained. They have their tents and they have their food.”
Kandalaft, however, expressed some optimism that visitors might return to the city based on their experience here. “You have to plant a seed,” he said. Kathy Flynn, who operates the Catwalk and the Hibernia with her husband, Barry, said that they had not seen anyone from the conference come into their establishments.
“It’s disappointing since we put on extra staff. I would have been happy to see even 40 people among the two places,” she said.
It was a similar tale at the Celtic Cafe, according to manager Ryan Dwane. “We put out the welcome signs but we hardly saw anyone,” he said.
“We’ve spent a lot of money here putting the conference on.” Van Laarhoven countered. “We serve breakfast and lunch because it’s a conference. They were on their own for dinner. But we wanted to bring people in, feed them and get them back to learning. We bought all our produce here to create a local menu and the people who came spent money on lodging.”
Bioneers moved downtown last year after it outgrew its initial venue at UMass Dartmouth and organizers believe they have now found a home. “We’re here to stay,” Van Laarhoven said. “Boston and Providence both wanted us but we have already decided to do it in New Bedford again next year. This is our city. Why wouldn’t we support it?”
October 26, 2009 12:00 AM
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