Sturgis North to return despite outstanding debts

Motorcycle rally: Organization says it still intends to pay for services from 2011.

Planning: Sturgis North CEO Ray Sasseville is flanked by the company’s lawyer Chris Green during a city council meeting. Now that the event will be held entirely on Neskonlith Indian Band land

Planning: Sturgis North CEO Ray Sasseville is flanked by the company’s lawyer Chris Green during a city council meeting. Now that the event will be held entirely on Neskonlith Indian Band land

Although Sturgis North has made the commitment to return to Salmon Arm in 2012, some Salmon Arm businesses are still awaiting payment for their work on this year’s festival.

The organization made the announcement of its return Friday, noting the event would be expanded from five to eight days and would take place entirely on the Neskonlith Indian Band property on 50th Avenue NW. This is the same site where a portion of the festival ran this summer.

The news has been met with mixed reaction from some local business owners who continue to await payment for work done for the July event.

The Observer contacted 10 Shuswap-area businesses about non-payment for work with the Sturgis North organization. Some refused to speak; others confirmed they have not been paid, but declined to have their business names used in the newspaper, some citing fears that going public could hurt their chances of future payment or bring on other possible retaliation.

Others agreed to speak publicly, saying they want people to be aware of their situation in hopes other businesses will not run into the same issues next year.

Techlectric owner Brad Handel says he is owed a significant amount from Sturgis North, likely one of the largest outstanding debts, but he is “elated” to hear the event will be going forward in 2012.

“For the record, I support this event for next year, because that means they will get ticket sales for next year so they can clean up this past year’s bills… If there’s no event next year, then we’ll never get paid.”

Handel says there is no doubt he is owed the money and Sturgis North has not disputed his bill.

“I back up everything, there’s a four-inch binder of emails and work orders. I don’t do business verbally,” Handel said.

Sturgis North admits there are outstanding debts but says they are working to rectify the situation.

“With regards to the concerns raised by some unpaid creditors, the Sturgis North Festival was in its first year and there are inevitable growing pains associated with putting on such a large event attended by so many people for the first time,” says Joan Hansen, managing partner in Sturgis North, in a press release emailed to the Observer Monday afternoon.

“There is a tremendous amount of work to be completed to audit the expense claims arising from the festival, and completion of that process will take time.  Sturgis North will do its best to deal with all legitimate expense claims in a manner that is fair to those creditors.”

Creditors wait and worry

Handel isn’t the only one waiting and hoping for payment.

Peter Rizzi, owner of Rizzi Enterprises, says he is owed approximately $13,000 from the organization for site preparation services including brush and grass cutting on the Neskonlith site and at a parking lot near Fischer’s Funeral Services, road work on the back of the Neskonlith property and providing a water tanker truck during the event. He received partial payment of $3,000, but has yet to see the remaining $13,000.

Rizzi says with an already poor economy, taking the financial loss would be tough.

“There’s been so little construction this year. We needed the work, so we were eager to take on the work for Sturgis. If we don’t see our money, it is going to really hurt.”

Rizzi says he has been told Sturgis North has hired a consultant to help them deal with outstanding debts.

“Instead of that, I’d rather they just used the money they are paying this person to pay people they owe.”

Urban Think Tank owner Mareike Klem adds her voice to those waiting for payment, saying she  hasn’t been paid for signage and other graphic design work.

While she didn’t want to comment on the exact amount, she says it equates to two months of work for two full-time and one half-time positions. Klem earned revenue from putting out the Sturgis North programs, as this came from advertising and sales revenue that was paid directly to her.

As a relatively new business, the Sturgis North payment could be make-or-break income for the young entrepreneur.

“If my parents weren’t helping me out, I’d definitely be out of business.”

Lakeside Printing is also owed funds, although Susan Renaud, one of the owners, also declined to say exactly how much.

“It’s not a nickel, I can tell you that,” she says.

Renaud says Sturgis North CEO Ray Sasseville and Hansen have been responding to their calls, so they are still hoping to get what they are owed.

“No one can afford those kind of losses. This was work they ordered that was all done in good faith. All I can hope is that somewhere, somehow the money will come forth.”

Doing business on a handshake has Steve Wyllie, owner of Trig’s Septic based in Sicamous, wondering if he will also have to absorb a loss. Wyllie says he was approached by Steve Hammer, Sturgis North’s site manager, about providing septic services including port-a-potties and twice-daily cleaning at some of the campgrounds and Salmon Arm sites.

“I’d done business with him as part of the Stomp before and they’d always been trustworthy, so I took it on a handshake and sent them a bill.”

Hammer, the only Salmon Arm resident involved with the Lower Mainland-based Sturgis North organization was also part of setting up other arrangements for goods and services including the one with Techlectric.

Steve Hammer’s contract with Sturgis North ended Aug. 18 and he is no longer associated with the Sturgis North organization.

The Stomp is a non-profit motorcycle rally that took place for 22 years in Silver Creek. It was to run in conjunction with Sturgis North in 2011 but was cancelled after difficulties arose in securing a site. Stomp organizers have said they intend to return with an event in 2012.

Again, Wyllie says Sturgis North has promised payment but what he wants to know is when.

“All I know is when they wanted to sell me a ticket to the event they wanted the money right away, not 60 days or six months later.”

The Salmon Arm and Shuswap Lake Agricultural Association, a non-profit group which operates the Salmon Arm Fairgrounds, is also awaiting final payment. However, president Phil Wright says they have been told by Sturgis North that details are still being worked out based on attendance at that location.

“We’ve been emailing back and forth. It’s a work in progress. We have not been denied.”

Going forward

News that the event would be returning to Salmon Arm has some business owners planning on doing things differently.

Handel said he would consider doing work for Sturgis again, but under different circumstances.

“The planning, the organization, the deposits would all need to be in place by January, or don’t talk to me,” he says.

Klem says she knew going into the business arrangement with Sturgis North that her payment was not supposed to take place until two weeks after the event. That would no longer be the case.

“It was some of my own stupidity that I did not insist on taking the money up front. I think a lot of people were just so excited about this big, new, grandiose event coming to town and were eager to jump on-board. It was a gamble I took, believing in them. I still hope (to be paid) but as time goes by that hope keeps getting smaller. It was an expensive lesson. I won’t do that again.”