Could it be that Athens has too much happening this summer?
That idea appears to be at the center of Athens City Council members’ concerns about a request by organizers of the annual Boogie on the Bricks street festival to shoehorn the event into a lone open weekend in early August.
At its regular meeting Monday night, City Council heard the first reading of an ordinance to close the northern-most block of Court Street on Aug. 10 for the 15th annual Boogie on the Bricks street festival.
Some council members cited concerns about the Boogie event – which is usually held in late June – being moved to a weekend later in the summer, when the calendar is already packed with uptown street closings for other events.
At the meeting, Peter Kotses, who sponsored the street-closing ordinance for Boogie on the Bricks, acknowledged that he’s uncomfortable about this request, which was submitted by the nonprofit Boogie’s board of directors.
“This request has basically put us in a position where we have a six-week period in the summer of this city where we have five different street closures on five of those six weekends,” Kotses said. “So it’s a challenge, and it’s something that people were uncomfortable with. I was already uncomfortable with it before it came before me.”
However, despite that discomfort, Kotses said he pulled together a meeting with the city administration and the promoter (Boogie event coordinator Cory Fletcher) last Thursday.
“We sat down and had a compromise, and that compromise was to go to one block on Court Street between Carpenter and State Street, so we wouldn’t have to shut down any intersections,” Kotses said. “We felt like we could kind of squeak through what was going to be a busy and challenging time on these street closures.”
At The Athens NEWS print deadline Wednesday around noon, however, it appeared that the city might after all OK a two-block North Court Street closing (Washington north to Carpenter streets) for an Aug. 10 Boogie on the Bricks. Mayor Steve Patterson said he endorses that idea, and has communicated his approval to Kotses, who chairs council’s transportation committee. Kotses had sponsored the initial ordinance for a one-block closing of North Court Street for the Boogie event.
Reached Wednesday at The NEWS’ print deadline, Kotses said he’s OK with amending the ordinance to reflect a two-block closure of North Court Street.
The amended two-block street closure (which would not involve closing the Washington-Court street intersection), according to Patterson, would be contingent on Boogie organizers committing to seek a June date for the event next year and future years, as well as participating in planning much earlier than it did this year. He also said he urged Boogie organizers to make changes so more is happening on the south part of the two blocks, between Washington and State streets. That part of the festival traditionally has been like a “ghost town,” the mayor said.
Boogie event coordinator Fletcher late Wednesday morning applauded the apparent move toward a two-block street closure. He confirmed that it comes with the caveat “that we work to revert to our traditional June date next year, and work to participate with other event coordinators next year in developing standardized guidelines for street closures as well as an all-events calendar early on in the year (an idea that we fully support!).”
During Monday’s meeting, Fletcher described the history and intention of Boogie on the Bricks, and why cutting it from the usual two blocks to one would eliminate much of what’s special about the festival.
“While we will be grateful for whatever accommodations the city provides for us in regards to throwing this event, and we’ll attempt to make this event fun, safe and successful,” Fletcher said, “we would like to express our concern to the members of this assembly, that forcing the reduction of this event’s footprint from two blocks to one will hamper our ability to provide many of our traditional services.”
Attractions to Boogie on the Bricks that would be curtailed or eliminated entirely with just one block of space, according to Fletcher, include an acoustic stage that complements the main stage with more “mellow and family-friendly” acts; space for vendors and nonprofits; the community presentation stage that was introduced last year; and the traditional children’s play area.
During Monday’s council meeting, City Council member Sarah Grace – who said she and her family have greatly enjoyed past Boogie on the Bricks festivals and especially their kid-friendliness – asked about possibly adding a half-block to the street-closing measure, to include the area just to the east of the East State and North Court intersection, between Court Street and the Domino’s Pizza outlet. This area has been used in the past for a kids play area.
The two-block street closing confirmed Wednesday by Mayor Patterson apparently has supplanted the half-block addition idea.
City Council President Chris Knisely said Tuesday that if the street-closing ordinance is amended, it will need to go back to first reading. With council taking its July recess at the end of this month, that doesn’t leave much time to adopt any news ordinances.
“In cases like this where the ordinance needs to be approved because of deadlines, council could suspend the rules to consider adopting it,” she explained, “In order to suspend the rules, six council members need to be present. We will likely have a special session in June to move forward the ordinances needing to be voted on.”
SO WHAT OTHER EVENTS are on the summer calendar in Athens?
If City Council approves the street closing for the Aug. 10 Boogie event, that would mean five out of six consecutive weekends when parts of uptown streets are closed for events between mid-July and mid-August. They include the following Saturday events: July 13, first weekend of Ohio Brew Week; July 20, second weekend of OBW, with Last Call street festival on Saturday; July 27, no street closings scheduled; Aug. 3, Bounty on the Bricks; Aug. 10, Boogie on the Bricks; and Aug. 17, the Athens Community Arts & Music Festival.
The following weekend, Aug. 23-25, marks the effective end of summer in Athens with Ohio University students moving back into town in preparation for classes on Aug. 26.
In a Facebook poston Friday, Boogie event director Fletcher wrote that the Boogie organizers had been “getting a lot of pushback at the political level from a very small handful of local business owners and special interests about throwing Boogie on the Bricks this year (an essentially free party for the entire community).”
Josh Thomas, owner of Brenen’s Coffee Café at 38 S. Court St., is one of the business owners who lobbied for a smaller footprint for this year’s Boogie on the Bricks.
In a post on Friday responding to the concerns that Fletcher voiced in his Facebook thread, Thomas recognized that Fletcher’s criticism of “a small handful of business owners and special interests” likely referred to him, among others.
Thomas, however, maintained that every time the city closes Court Street for some sort of festival, “most retail stores lose business.”
Stating concerns similar to those expressed by Kotses and others Monday evening, Thomas explained that events that require stretches of uptown streets to be closed hurt some uptown businesses that already struggle during Athens’ summer months.
In a phone interview Saturday morning, Thomas made many of the same points, including the idea that street closings for uptown events discourage shoppers, who steer away from uptown because of the crowds and lack of parking.
Thomas said that when Boogie on the Bricks has been held farther north on Court Street, between Washington Street and just south of Carpenter Street (as it was two years ago), is seems to have worked out pretty well.
“They’re better off farther down the street. Nothing is happening on our block,” he said, referring to the South Court Street block between Union and Washington streets.
As it turns out, based on Mayor Patterson’s statements Wednesday morning, holding the Boogie event on North Court, between Washington and Carpenter streets, is exactly what city officials are considering after all.
Thomas stressed Saturday that both he and his wife support Boogie on the Bricks and think it’s a “great event.” “We are not opposed it… on a block farther down Court Street,” he said, adding that “it just needs to be planned better and well thought out.”
That point was echoed by City Council members at Monday evening’s meeting. They seemed frustrated that event coordinators didn’t hash out logistics with city administrators much earlier in the process.
“I think there needs to be more coordination right at the very beginning, like in February or January, so we can plan these so they complement each other…” City Council member Chris Fahl said.
Kotses on Tuesday suggested that city officials and event promoters likely will take away some lessons from the current circumstances. “Hindsight is always 20/20, and I think we will see some changes to the process of street-closure requests in the future, which will be better for everyone,” he said.
DURING THE MEETING, Fletcher was asked why Boogie on the Bricks organizers didn’t just stick with their usual June date.
He explained that the scheduling of the revived Athens Criterium uptown bike race presented the main obstacle, since it takes place on Saturday, June 22, the date that would have been customary for the Boogie event.
In an interview on Saturday, Chip McIntosh, who serves on the Boogie on the Bricks board, pushed back against two points raised by Thomas and city administrators. First, he said the annual street festival has not been getting smaller. Last year drew the second-biggest crowd in the 14-year history of the event, he maintained. “This year, we have every reason to believe that we’ll have 15,000-plus people, like last year.”
Second, he said that having that many people uptown for an event can’t help but boost a number of uptown businesses, including bars and restaurants.
“We understand that closing two blocks of Court Street for 12 hours on a Saturday can have a negative impact on business, but we contend that a projected injection of 15,000 festival goers more than compensates for that,” he said.