Do Downtown Festivals Hurt or Help Annapolis?
On Monday, the city council will discuss issues surrounding festivals held in downtown Annapolis.
The discussion about whether downtown festivals are good for Annapolis will continue Monday at a public hearing. At the heart of the issue is whether festivals with vendors help or compete with downtown businesses.
On July 11, Mayor Josh Cohen introduced legislation regarding the approval of vendors at Summer at City Dock events and two September events: Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association Race Week and Kunta Kinte festival.
That same night, residents and business owners flooded Annapolis City Hall to discuss festivals—a hot topic since it was reported that the city council did not approve vendors for the Summer at City Dock events that started on May 29.
More than 25 people spoke at the July 11 council meeting, with the majority expressing general support for downtown festivals but a need for better planning. Concerns included:
- Competition between vendors and local businesses
- Lack of proper notification about upcoming festivals
- Use of City Dock parking during festivals
- Cause of power failure downtown on July 9
Following the meeting, other city council committees also considered the issue.
On July 12, the Economic Matters Committee heard additional testimony.
Annapolis Police Chief Michael Pristoop told the city council’s public safety committee July 18 that the police department patrols about 40 to 50 events of different sizes with overtime costs ranging between $150,000 and $225,000.
Some of these events are reimbursed directly to the departments, and in other cases the money goes back to the general fund.
“When we’re deployed downtown for an event, there is definitely lagtime in our ability to be in another area of the city,” Pristoop said.
Annapolis Fire Chief David Stokes said event coverage cost the fire department about $75,000 last year.
“There are times when some of the events really taxed our resources,” he said, referencing a race last year on a particularly hot day, when both resources from the city and the county were required.
The overriding theme of the speeches made before the council on July 11 was the need for everyone to come together and find a middle ground.
“I have never ever experienced a public hearing where local merchants have fought local merchants,” said Ronald Cohen, a developer in Annapolis. “We are not the enemy—not any retailer in this city is the enemy. We should be cohesive and we should have one mission and that mission should be [to] pull people together both socially and economically.”
Several business owners talked about how the festivals, which are usually held on weekends, hurt their businesses. Gregory Guzzi, who owns businesses at City Dock including jewelry and gift shops, said he directly competes with the vendors at festivals.
“Any event that takes city parking greatly hurts my business,” he said.
Bishop Craig Coates, who organized the recent Prayze in the City festival, also spoke of the need to work together. “[The power failure on] July 9th was not the result of our event,” Coates said before the council.
“Our city is changing and it’s growing in many ways but, in the midst of change, we need to keep a sense of connection to one another,” he added later.
The council meeting will take place Monday at Annapolis City Hall at 7:00 p.m. The agenda for the meeting accompanies this article.
Ahead of Monday’s meeting Mayor Josh Cohen addressed the issue in his blog which can be read here.
The post states that the mayor has given Michelle LeFurge, the city’s special events coordinator, the task of getting input from the public and coming up with a set of guidelines regarding events for the city council to review.
“In September, Ms. LeFurge will brief the City Council with draft recommendations. Ultimately, the City Council will deliberate, take public input, and establish a uniform policy that we can implement for 2012 and beyond,” Cohen states in the post.