Halloween in Athens

Uptown Athens. Photo by Ben Peters.

The City of Athens announced Monday there will be no sanctioned Halloween block party this year due to the pandemic — the second year in a row the massive Court Street event has been canceled.

Streets will remain open and no activities, bandstands or vendors will be scheduled, according to a release.

The Athens Uptown Business Association has also canceled the Uptown trick or treat, Athens City Council Member Jeffery Risner said on Facebook.

Mayor Steve Patterson could not be reached for comment by publication time.

City Service Safety Director Andy Stone said it wouldn't be "responsible to encourage a mass gathering" and that "traditionally, Halloween is lots of people packed closely together."

“We needed to get one more year (of no block party) and then next year we'll be back in a somewhat normal fashion,” Stone said.

He added the city needed to let organizers, vendors and performers know the status of the event.

Halloween block party director Brandon Thompson said the news of the cancellation was "upsetting."

"But I've just had this feeling ever since I saw our vaccination rates plateau over the summer that Halloween might be a casualty of that," Thompson said in an email. "I'm sure there are people who are happy to not see it happen this year and that's fine, but there are many people missing out on the fun."

As a performer under the name DJ B-Funk, Thompson said he sympathizes with the performers who will not be able to perform this year.

Stone and Patterson had previously indicated in a committee meeting in September that it was not likely the event would resume this year, citing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“We are certainly watching things closely and deciding what is the safest thing for our community,” Patterson said in mid-September.

Although the city has already approved street closures for a possible block party, city officials previously stressed that it was a precautionary measure rather than an indication the event was moving forward.

Stone said 

Since 1974, the Athens Halloween party that encompasses Uptown and student housing areas has drawn thousands of people looking for a good time. The HallOUween block party has become an annual staple for students and others. For the first three years, the event was unsanctioned by any authorities, and was more of a takeover of the streets by revelers, according to the Athens NEWS definitive history of the event. 

It was sanctioned in 1977, but because of the high arrest numbers in 1978, the City of Athens and Ohio University dropped their sponsorship of the festivities in 1979, The Athens NEWS previously reported. Despite the lack of official recognition, the block party happened anyway. The annual event continued to grow through the 80’s and 90’s without University or City support until 1990 when the block party was recognized by the City of Athens again.

In 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the city did not hold a block party with events or stages, although The Post reported that smaller parties were held throughout the weekend.

 Stone said in the event of unsanctioned events, the city will be prepared to deal with large gatherings, but will not be "using riot gear and horses" to keep the streets clear like in years past.

“There was a period of time in Athens where there was a very adverse relation between people who wanted to take over the street and jump up and down and say ‘we’re partying’ and the police would say ‘no you're not,’” Stone said.

Stone said in recent years, the city has taken the approach of allowing spontaneous gatherings in the street to fizzle out, such as earlier this year during the celebration of OU's victory over Virginia in the March Madness Basketball tournament.

“While those people standing in the street is illegal and an inconvenience to drivers, law enforcement is not going to get in a confrontation with people who are going to leave in a couple minutes,” Stone said.

Stone also added some law enforcement from around the state will be mustered for the weekend, but not to the extent it usually is.

Carly Leatherwood, Ohio University spokesperson, said previously in an email that students residing on campus are not permitted to have guests stay with them on Halloween weekend, and parking will not be permitted on campus.

Thompson said in an email he was not optimistic about the block party's future next year.

"I'd like to say see you next year, but i'm honestly waiting for the delta variant to replace this variant next year and ruin something else," Thompson said.

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