Freeman Stage receives Southern Delaware Tourism award

The Freeman Stage at Bayside has been chosen from among 11 nominees by a panel of independent travel writers to receive the 2013 Southern Delaware Tourism Recognition Award. The award was presented on Dec. 11 at the Annual Southern Delaware Tourism Awards Luncheon, held at the Cordrey Center in Millsboro.

Representatives of Southern Delaware Tourism noted that tourism in Sussex County generates $850 million in revenue annually, second only to the county’s agriculture industry. The annual award recognizes an individual or organization that made an outstanding and significant contribution to the enrichment of tourism in Sussex County in the year prior to October 2013.

The Freeman Stage at Bayside, which opened in 2008, is a program of the nonprofit Joshua M. Freeman Foundation. It’s an open-air performing arts venue located near Fenwick Island, offering programming including dance, live music, theater and children’s programming from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

More than 65 percent of the performances they offer are free to the public, and students younger than 18 are always admitted free of charge, except for national touring acts. In addition to approximately 50 performances offered during the summer months, the Freeman Stage partners with other venues in Sussex County, including Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown, to present performances in the off-season to underserved area populations. The program brought performances to more than 10,000 students in 2012, through their off-stage programs.

Dr. Ileana Smith, vice president and campus director at Del Tech, said the caliber and quality of the Freeman performances draw thousands of visitors to the county.

“Sussex is on the map as not only a resort destination, but a place where you can see diverse arts programming.”

In 2013, the Freeman Stage at Bayside welcomed more than 38,000 patrons to its performances. Season-ticket buyers this year represented 28 states. It’s the largest arts organization in Sussex County and the only organization to present national recording acts, as well as multi-disciplinary programming.

“And the benefits of Freeman Stage programming extend beyond those enjoyed by patrons,” they noted. “In 2013, the venue returned over $1 million dollars to the local economy in money spent over and above ticket prices.”

Kristie Maravalli of the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce said that, in a relatively short time, the Freeman Stage has made a significant impact not only from a tourism standpoint but from an educational one, as well. “The Freeman Stage at Bayside is truly a cultural beacon and a treasured resource in Sussex County.”

Southern Delaware Tourism congratulated all of this year’s nominees.

“This year’s entries were very competitive and diverse. Each year this list grows along with the magnetism of Sussex County,” said Scott Thomas, executive director of Southern Delaware Tourism. The 2013 nominees included:

• Ann Hilaman, vice president of the Lewes Historical Society. “Hilaman is a tireless contributor to the Lewes Historical Society. Buyer and manager of the LHS gift shop since its inception, Hilaman is soft spoken, quiet and somewhat humble about all her many contributions. She is also involved with the Overfalls Foundation and the Lewes Yacht Club.”

• 22nd Annual Beach and Bay Cottage Tour, Bethany Beach, Friends of the South Coastal Library. “The 22nd Annual Beach and Bay Cottage Tour was held in July. The event, which draws over 2,000 attendees annually, raises between $75,000 and $100,000 to benefit programs of The South Coastal Library and Cultural Center. Most event attendees are summer visitors who plan their stays in the area to coincide with the Cottage Tour. Over 400 volunteers participate each year in organizing this popular event.”

• Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, 35th Annual Bethany Beach Boardwalk Arts Festival. “The 35th Annual Bethany Beach Boardwalk Arts Festival, a one-day, juried fine art event, is held in September and, this year, drew over 100 artists from 10 states and Washington, D.C. and more than 10,000 visitors to downtown Bethany. This year’s event included, for the first time, a Farmer’s Market, Children’s Corner and a Wine Tasting. Record proceeds from the Silent Auction benefitted four elementary school arts programs. According to the Chamber’s survey results, over 90 percent of participants planned to stay in the area two or more nights.”

• Greer Stangl, marketing and outreach director, T.S. Smith & Sons. “Through her job, Stangl shares the farm experience with school groups and anyone who will listen. Visitors to the farm can pick their own produce and enjoy knowing more about where their food comes from. The T. S. Smith family and staff are heavily involved in the success of the Apple Scrapple Festival every year, an event that draws huge crowds. They participate in farm to table events promoting the farm and local restaurants. Educating and promoting nutritious meals is where the farm to school program comes in. Stangl is also involved in the Delaware Agritourism Association.”

• Historic Lewes Farmers Market. “The Historic Lewes Farmers Market, a volunteer-run non-profit organization, drew over 44,000 visitors between May 11 and Sept. 28, 2013 and took top honors for popularity in the America’s Farmland Trust competition for farmers markets nationwide. It’s estimated that thirty percent of the market’s patrons, over 13,000, live more than 50 miles from Lewes and more than half of market shoppers stated they’d spend money at area businesses including hotels and other local accommodations.”

• Lewes Dragon Boat Festival, hosted by Sussex Academy. “This past September, in its inaugural year, the Lewes Dragon Boat Festival drew approximately 2,000 spectators and 400 competitors to Canal Front Park in downtown Lewes. A survey indicated that visitors from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey attended. Lewes hotels reported higher occupancy that weekend than in the same weekend in 2012, and retail stores reported an increase in sales in the days surrounding the event. Local restaurants reported a 20 percent to 80 percent increase in sales. Over $17,000 was raised for the Sussex Academy Charter School.”

• Lewes in Bloom. “Lewes in Bloom contributes immensely to the unique attractiveness of Lewes as a destination and, perhaps more importantly, as a repeat destination for visitors and their friends. The group is a major contributor to the success of the Lewes Chamber of Commerce’s spring Tulip Festival by virtue of the thousands of tulips their volunteers plant throughout the city for the event. Throughout the 12 years of its existence, Lewes in Bloom has expanded the areas it beautifies to include Lewes Beach, DRBA’s areas along Freeman Highway and Cape Henlopen State Park. They’ve also established a Children’s Learning Garden in Stango Park.”

• Marcia Plotkin, president and CEO of Profusion LLC. “Ms. Plotkin’s firm provides deluxe accommodations for tourists in both North and South Bethany. The firm sends out a periodic newsletter emphasizing the virtues of the area to over 2,500 prospects.”

• The Milton St. Patrick’s Day Parade Association. “For seven years, the Milton St. Patrick’s Day Association has planned and executed a successful parade including dance groups, horses, classic cars, clowns, bands, floats and much more. In 2013, the Lucky Leprechaun 5K was added to the event and raised over $20,000 for Casa San Francisco, Milton Fire Department, Best Buddies Delaware in conjunction with Cape Henlopen High School, and the Milton Chamber of Commerce. In seven years, the parade’s growing popularity has led to an increase in the number of spectators from about 200 to approximately 4,000 in 2013.”

• Overfalls Foundation. “The Overfalls is one of few remaining lightships in the country and one of only 7 lightships in the U.S. that are open to the public on a regular schedule. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior has designated the Lightship Overfalls a National Historic Landmark, making it the only such landmark in Sussex County and the only maritime-oriented National Historic Landmark in the state. The Foundation, through the expenditure of 85,000 volunteer hours and $1.2 million capital investment, saved an historic vessel from the scrap heap and made it a showpiece in Lewes. The ship has been open for regularly scheduled tours since 1999, with the hours of operation expanding to now encompass a five-day-per-week, 20-week-per-year schedule. Additionally, special tours are available year-round, attracting many groups from out of state. The number of visitors has increased 12 percent year over year since 1999.”

Past recipients of the Southern Delaware Tourism Recognition Award include the Apple Scrapple Festival, Dogfish Head Brewery Tours, the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival, the Lewes Maritime History Trail, the Ocean to Bay Bike Tour and Nassau Valley Vineyards.

Southern Delaware Tourism supports and encourages the identification, development and promotion of sustainable, year-round tourism in Southern Delaware that contributes to economic growth and improves the quality of life. For more information, call Southern Delaware Tourism at (302) 856-1818 or visit their website at