Old Hilliardfest organizers won't give up on Main Street
It appears to be Main Street or bust for organizers of the Old Hilliardfest Art and Street Fair after the citylast week notified the Hilliard Civic Association it did not intend to issue a permit to close Main Street for next year's festival.
John Peters, vice president of the Hilliard Civic Association, said having the festival at another location, such as Norwich or Center streets, would not serve a purpose.
"It's a birthday cake without candles," he said.
Members of the Hilliard Civic Association wore organizational lime green T-shirts to the Sept. 10 Hilliard City Council meeting and sought support to keep the event on Main Street.
Following the meeting, Council President Brett Sciotto said council members are considering legislation that would establish detailed, formal criteria required for receiving a permit to close a public street for the purpose of a community event.
Such legislation, with specific guidelines, could allow the safety director to issue such a permit, Councilman Al Iosue said.
Failure to meet the criteria was among the reasons why Mayor Don Schonhardt directed Law Director Pam Fox to write a Sept. 5 letter advising the Hilliard Civic Association that the city would not issue a permit to close Main Street for the 2013 street fair, Schonhardt said.
"No one has suggested (the street fair) not continue," Schonhardt said at the Sept. 10 meeting.
"There are requirements that cannot be ignored ... (it is) why the letter went out one year in advance," he said, adding he would be pleased to meet with members of city council and the Hilliard Civic Association to discuss the issue.
The criteria include obtaining signatures from Main Street residents and business owners acknowledging the road closure, Schonhardt said, but street fair organizers failed to obtain signatures this year from three affected property owners.
"The (Sept. 5) letter did what it was intended to do," Schonhardt said Sept. 11, and that was to get the attention of event organizers.
"Sometimes you have to ring a bell pretty hard," he said.
Schonhardt said he has multiple concerns but he is open to the festival remaining on Main Street if all the concerns are addressed.
"I think it is the city's job to be fair to as many of the people who are affected by such activities as possible and to consider what's good for the community as a whole and what's good for those businesses (that) may be negatively impacted by the street closure," he said.
Speaking after the meeting, Peters said there have been past instances when not all owners in the closed area had signed. He questioned why, after 27 years of the festival, the city would suggest it be relocated.
When asked if organizers would consider an alternative on-street site, Peters said the event needs to be on Main Street.
"It's for the benefit of area businesses," he said.
In the Sept. 5 letter, Fox outlined the city's case for an alternative site.
"Because of issues the administration has encountered this year and in years past with the closure of Main Street ... the decision has been made to require that Old Hilliardfest be moved from the street beginning next year," Fox wrote.
The letter said the permit for this year's event was issued "despite the failure of organizers to obtain consent from all the property owners affected by the street closures, in accordance with the police department rules," but that the city would not interrupt the 2012 street fair.
The letter advised organizers that planning for next year's event "will have to include an off-street location."
"There are many successful events that take place around central Ohio that do not involve street closures and we are confident that you will locate a convenient site. ... The city recognizes the history of the Old Hilliardfest and wishes the success of the event to continue. However ... the safety and welfare of the residents and visitors to the city governs our decision to keep (Main Street) open," Fox wrote.
Ed Daniel, president of the Hilliard Civic Association, after publicly thanking organizers and citing the event as the most successful to date, told council members he was "shocked" to receive the letter.
"Our first reaction was resignation and a finality that it was over," Daniel said.
But then came a desire to keep the event in its current home, he said.
Schonhardt said the street fair can be equally successful elsewhere in the city.
"There are opportunities to give them what they want in a similar venue without closing Main Street," Schonhardt said prior to the Sept. 10 meeting.
But supporters of the current location point to cities such as Canal Winchester, Westerville, Worthington and others that close arterial roads for community festivals.
Peters cited the closure of High Street in Worthington to refute the administration's claim that closing Main Street causes too much disruption.
The supporters of the street fair appeared to have the attention of council members. Following the meeting, many council members spoke individually to the approximately 15 members of the Hilliard Civic Association and lauded this year's street fair, which was held Sept. 8.
"It's a great location," Iosue said. "It should stay on Main Street."
"It makes sense that it stay on Main Street,"City Council Vice President Kelly McGivern said, especially considering the recent $3- million improvement to attract more visitors to the Old Hilliard district.
During the council meeting, McGivern said "The tone (of Fox's letter) could have been different."
Moreover, council members expressed concern the administration had not at least notified them about the letter.
"We should have been told about the letter," McGivern said after the meeting.
Schonhardt said he advised Sciotto of the letter but did not personally speak with a member of council prior to sending it.