The Two Harbors mayor urged the city to support hosting Festival of Sail. Then his daughter got the contract
First Day Events was formed in September, just before the mayor and councilors authorized a letter voicing their support for a potential festival relation.
TWO HARBORS — Mayor Chris Swanson urged the City Council to support the potential for the Festival of Sail to relocate to his North Shore town.
Then a new nonprofit incorporated by his daughter got the festival contract.
Festival of Sail producer Craig Samborski confirmed to the News Tribune on Monday afternoon that the festival’s contract was with First Day Events.
According to business filings on the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website, First Day Events was incorporated Sept. 9. Mayor Swanson’s daughter, Ashleigh Swanson, is listed as the incorporator, along with the family’s Two Harbors home address. Ashleigh has owned Lou's Fish House in Two Harbors since 2018 when she was 16.
First Day Events’ Two Harbors mailing address is also the same as Garage Starts and PureDriven; the mayor serves as the CEO of those two companies.
First Day Events was represented by Sarah Koster during a special City Council meeting about the Festival of Sail on Monday evening.
Koster is also the executive administrative assistant for Garage Starts, according to her LinkedIn profile. She appears on First Day Events' articles of incorporation filed with the state, where it lists her email with Garage Starts' domain.
Asked by the News Tribune about the financial details of the contract between Festival of Sail and First Day Events — like whether First Day had received any money — Koster declined to answer. But she said the organization would not make any money from the festival itself.
No contract currently exists between the city of Two Harbors and either the Festival of Sail or First Day Events, though the council is weighing what such a contract could look like.
Festival of Sail, formerly named Tall Ships, was once held every few years in Duluth, but was forced to find a new home for the summer 2022 installment because of construction planned on the seawall behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. The event could bring 100,000 visitors Aug. 4-7 to Two Harbors.
The potential conflicts of interest were not directly addressed during the Monday meeting, which was organized so councilors could consider whether to submit an application to use Minnesota Department of Natural Resources-owned land around Agate Bay for the festival. They tabled the discussion until the Monday, Feb. 14, meeting over concerns from city administration and several councilors.
City clerk Patty Nordean alluded to those concerns as she discussed the formation of an ad hoc committee for sorting through Festival of Sail logistics.
"We've got some people here that sit on this council who are directly involved with this process and we need to avoid conflicts of interests," Nordean said.
Councilor Robin Glaser later added: "I'm extremely concerned about who the stakeholders are with regards to this whole event."
Just weeks after the nonprofit was formed, Swanson told the Two Harbors City Council that he was trying to bring the festival to the city.
“We have the tall ships issue in motion right now. We are bringing the tall ships to Two Harbors and planning next summer to have that event here,” Swanson told the council, Business North reported in October .
Then, during the City Council meeting Oct. 25, councilors unanimously approved the consent agenda, which included an item “authorizing a letter of support from the City Council for the potential hosting of the Tall Ships Festival in Two Harbors in 2022.”
Swanson did not abstain from the vote, according to the meeting’s minutes .
The item had previously been on the Oct. 11, 2021, consent agenda, but was pulled and then moved, meeting minutes and agendas show.
By Nov. 25, 2021, it was official: The Festival of Sail would relocate from Duluth to Two Harbors .
It’s unclear what financial arrangements are in the contract. Samborski told the News Tribune he was in a meeting and would call back later Monday afternoon. Chris Swanson did not immediately respond to a voicemail or emails left by the News Tribune seeking comment.
Last week, when the News Tribune reached Chris Swanson about the second round of comments he made that the council was considering sending to the Minnesota Attorney’s Office for review , he said: "As I understand city policy, I am no longer allowed to speak to you,” and then hung up.
Reached by phone Monday, Ashleigh Swanson would not say how First Day Events got the contract. She said she was too busy to talk to the News Tribune and said she would answer emailed questions.
This story was updated at 8:57 p.m. Feb. 7 with quotes from Monday evening's city council meeting. It was originally posted at 4:04 p.m. Feb. 7.