The 44th annual Athens Halloween block party returns to uptown Athens this Saturday, although the forecast of cold, rainy weather may put a damper on the festivities.
The celebration – a booze-soaked Athens tradition since 1974 – has come a long way since the days of unlawful street takeovers by costumed Ohio University students and others. Despite the calming effect that the city’s regulation (if not embrace) of the event has had, it’s still known as one of the largest Halloween celebrations in the country.
As of early Wednesday afternoon, the forecast for Saturday was rainy and chilly (a high of 52 F) with a 60 percent chance of rain, and a low of 32 degrees that night, according to the Scalia Lab at Ohio University.
Nonetheless, the uptown block party always seems to end up wild regardless of the weather, as seen by the sheer number of arrests each year – the vast majority for alcohol-related offenses. The Athens and the Ohio University police departments arrested 113 people over the weekend of the 2016 block party last year, compared with about 108 people total the year before. State liquor agents always arrest dozens as well.
Ohio University reported Wednesday that it had about 1,219 guests registered as staying in the dorms during Halloween weekend this year; that’s the lowest number of registered guests the university has had in at least the last 11 years (last year, OU had 1,466 guests registered, and the year before that, 1,853).
Official festivities on Court Street are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. this Saturday and end around 12:30 a.m. when the two stages shut down (the same as last year). However, most unofficial off-street parties don’t end until sometime in the early morning hours (everyone trickles out of uptown Athens at his or her own rate).
Festivities Saturday will be kicked off by the annual Honey for the Heart giant puppet parade at 6 p.m., entering North Court Street from Fern Street, heading south to Union Street, and then back down Court Street. The parade’s theme this year is “Turn it Gold,” part of an awareness campaign for childhood cancer, and as always, anybody can participate (those who want to be in the parade should arrive at Central Venue at 29 E. Carpenter St. between 5 and 5:30 p.m. Saturday).
The Athens Clean and Safe Halloween Committee has announced the usual two music stages at the Halloween celebration this year, one on the north section of North Court Street near Courtside Pizza and the other toward the south end of South Court at its intersection with West Union Street.
The south stage, dubbed “Slip n Fly Fest Stage” and sponsored by the Slip n Fly Fest out of Mansfield, Ohio, will feature a costume contest with judging starting around 8 p.m. and announcement of winners at 9 p.m. Winners in each category of best male, female and group costumes will win free tickets to the Slip N’ Fly festival, which usually occurs in August each year. Eleven musical acts (mostly electronic, hip-hop and various DJ acts) are scheduled to play that stage.
Four other bands (rock, garage rock and jam bands) are slated to play the event this year.
Brandon Thompson, a member of the Clean and Safe Halloween Committee, said that people can expect much of the same experience in uptown Athens as in recent years.
“But we are pushing what we do on our stages in terms of production and talent,” Thompson said. “We have an all local lineup with over 15 acts, which I feel like has to be some type of record.”
The city is planning to close most of Court Street to traffic Saturday morning. Vendors will be located on East Union Street, adjoining the College Green, and State Street near the North Court Street Valero (formerly Dale’s BP).
As for parking, the Athens County Fairgrounds are once again providing remote parking off of West Union Street, a short shuttle ride and healthy walk to and from uptown. Gates are slated to open Friday at 11 a.m., and a vehicle can be left until noon on Monday for $10. A shuttle will run from the fairgrounds to the uptown area for $1 per ride from Friday at 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. and Saturday from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. The shuttle will drop off passengers at Buffalo Wild Wings on West Union Street and the Convocation Center.
Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle has previously said that a significant number of law enforcement officers (more than 100) end up working the block party each year.
Mayor Steve Patterson said this week that he hopes people are “active bystanders” this year as they go about their night.
“If they see something that is unusual or if they see somebody who is trying to accost somebody, or try to start a fight with somebody, don’t be a passive bystander, be active in reporting it,” Patterson said. “There will be a large number of police officers in the uptown area.”
Patterson repeated the city’s usual hope for people to be “safe” and “civil,” and asked students and in-town residents to remind their out-of-town visiting friends to behave.
It’s advised that drivers be careful about parking in OU lots, as the university this year is giving out $150 fines to anyone parked in campus lots without the proper permit.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol increases its patrols in the area during Halloween and other busy weekends. Routinely, during Halloween weekend, a driver coming into Athens will see numerous cars pulled over by state troopers.
Numerous Ohio Investigative Unit (state liquor) agents also will be in town.
“Same as every year, (always) carry an ID, write your host’s address down and keep it with you in case you get lost, and lastly, don’t overindulge in consumption of alcoholic beverages,” Pyle has previously recommended
Police will clear Court Street, depending on how crowded the uptown area still is, between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., although the precise time is a judgment call. Court Street should open back up for normal traffic by 6 or 7 a.m. Sunday.
Ron Lucas, deputy service-safety director and public information officer for the city, said an information booth will be located in front of the Ohio University offices at 31 S. Court St. (the old Woolworth’s building). Maps, safety tips and information on local tow companies, as well as other help, will be provided.
FOR EACH STUDENT LIVING in OU residence halls, one registered guest is being allowed this year. Guest registration closed as of 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 21.
This is the 10th year the university is charging a fee, and the rate is $50 per wristband for guests and free for students. The total cost of the weekend to the university is approximately $115,000, university officials say. The total cost of the weekend for the city, meanwhile, is about $70,000, Lucas said.
OU residence hall doors will be monitored from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturday, OU officials said, and around 86 green-jacket volunteer safety patrols will be out and around campus.
In a release this year, the university recommends that students designate meeting places if they get separated during the weekend.
The university also recommends that students “walk with friends at all times,” lock their doors, and not leave drinks unattended/accept drinks from strangers.