Organizers of a popular annual fund-raiser in Annapolis that raises thousands of dollars for Chesapeake Bay restoration have postponed the event this Saturday because the management of the marina where it was to be held decided just two weeks ago it cannot offer the space.
Invitations and reminders had been mailed and more than 400 people had bought tickets to The Big Enchilada, the Mexican-themed party that began in 1980.
The mailings went out before managers of Mears Marina in Eastport told organizers April 27 that they would be unable to accommodate the party this year because of renovations to its pool. The private marina on Eastport's Back Creek has been host to the fund-raiser about six years.
Organizers rescheduled the event for Sept. 9 because they couldn't find a new location on such short notice.
"We went into panic mode," said Missy Nalewaik, president of The Big Enchilada, a nonprofit group that in the past 20 years has raised more than $40,000 through its annual parties for regional hospitals and the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
"We've had to reprint postponement cards, send them out to our mailing list," Nalewaik said. "In September, we'll have to send out another set of invitations. With all this additional postage and printing costs, this definitely cuts into how much we're going to be able to donate this year."
The event began in 1980 when Arnold computer consultant Steve Ruiz invited 20 friends over for a home-cooked Mexican dinner. Two years later, -- almost 100 people showed up, so Ruiz and his friends began charging guests and donating profits to causes.
When Enchilada Nine drew 650 people, Ruiz decided the event had outgrown his house. Since then, Enchilada organizers have held the fund-raiser at Earleigh Heights fire hall in Severna Park and Sandy Point State Park before former Mears Marina general manager Bob Deyoung, who attended The Big Enchilada, began donating his private club's poolside area. The Big Enchilada was to be held in the marina parking lot from 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday because the pool is being resurfaced.
Desiree Bell, who replaced Deyoung as Mears Marina's general manager this year, said she decided two weeks ago that she could not provide the parking lot for the event because a sewer line broke.
She said the break, coupled with the pool resurfacing, made it inconvenient for the marina to hold the event, and she contacted Nalewaik as soon as she made the decision.
Bell said she could not commit to providing space for the event Sept. 9 because she has to keep her poolside open for members on weekends. The marina usually has donated the poolside area to the nonprofit group before the pool opens on Memorial Day.
"I had recently become the general manager at Mears on short notice. We have so much activity going on at the marina. This was something that I didn't see as something that was pertinent to the business. I have enough on my plate now, so I didn't want to commit to it," Bell said.
"This is a private, exclusive club. [The Big Enchilada] is a public event. Without it being at the right time, it doesn't work for us," she said.
The Big Enchilada organizers tentatively plan to hold the event at the Knights of Pythias on Solomons Island Road near Parole. Ruiz said he hopes Bell reconsiders helping their cause.