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.

Deborah Cross July 26, 2011 at 02:19 PM
Consider timing of festivals - one weekend, on Sunday, both "First Sunday" and City Dock concerts were held - and, I believe, there was an additional activity. Annapolis is a small city with interesting layout interrupted by water. It gets too congested if too many events occur simultaneously. Additionally, I sympathize with local businesses and their concerns. I support local businesses and believe in that strongly. They create a positive atmosphere in our historic district (with a few exceptions, such as "Acme Grill"). I am a resident of Annapolis Thank you
Laurie Sullivan July 27, 2011 at 11:49 AM
I am a resident of the historic district, I have great sympathy for the downtown merchants and residents alike who seem rarely to be considered when these festivals are planned. Parking is always a major issue. There is rarely adequate parking in downtown as it is. Despite years, promises by several city mayors including Mayor Cohen and numerous parking commissions, there is still no comprehensive parking plan to address the ongoing needs of business owners, residents and tourists. The addition of these downtown events, be it festivals, triathalons, etc. put an excessive strain on an already inadequate parking situation in the historic district. Then, add to it the complete lack of business accumen by the city and we end up with festival vendors competing with our own struggling downtown businesses and morning runs/triathalons that do nothing for the downtown businesses as event participants have come and gone before most businesses have even opened. These morning events do little to help the local businesses and create havoc for residents who are forced to make alternative arrangements for parking vehicles and moving about their own neighborhoods on numerous weekends throughout the year. Until there is a comprehensive downtown parking plan, merchants and downtown residents alike will continue to be in opposition to many of these festivals and events.
christine cots July 27, 2011 at 03:15 PM
I think there just needs to be specific vendors selected for festivals. I think we need to be cautious as a town to ensure we are promoting local businesses versus bringing in outside vendors to turn profits. I think the extra foot traffic can be good for local business but I also would like to note that in the summer there is little need for additional attractions - DTA is already the attraction. Keep the festivals to a minimum in the summer and try to hold more for the residents of the area during the "off season" to encourage local business growth!


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