New plan for festivals in downtown London

The city of London has a new plan for downtown festivals that requires them to be contained in the following area: on Main Street between First and High streets and on Second Street between Oak and Union streets. All booths, food trucks, and other structures (shown here in red) must be set up down the middle of Main and Second streets, 15 feet away from the curb, 10 feet away from any intersection corner, and with front entry facing toward the buildings.

(Posted March 12, 2024)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

The Strawberry Festival, Rhythm & Rib Fest, and Old Fashioned Christmas will continue to take place in downtown London but with some new regulations, layout requirements, and parade route stipulations.

The decision to keep the festivals downtown, rather than move them elsewhere, was based, in part, on the results of a survey the city administration conducted in late February and early March, asking residents and downtown business owners for feedback.

For years, city officials have heard mixed opinions about the impact these events, all of which require road closures, have on traffic, accessibility to businesses, and safety. The city used the survey as a way to more formally gauge opinions.

The city received 497 survey responses, 405 of which favored keeping the festivals downtown. These tallies included 21 responses from downtown business owners, 16 of whom favored keeping the festivals downtown.

New logistics plan
In addition to conducting the survey, city administrators met with council members and safety-service department representatives. They then put together a working plan for downtown festivals that covers regulations for street closures, vendor and structure placement, staging areas, event end-time expectations, and a parade route. The plan, along with the survey results, was shared at a town hall meeting on March 7.

“We understand that these events create a unique energy in our city, but it is crucial to find the right balance,” said Eve Breedlove, city administration executive assistant. “That’s why we approached this plan with a multi-faceted lens, considering safety, accessibility, and the well-being of downtown businesses, resident needs, and the experience of visitors who travel specifically for these events.”

She noted that the plan is a living document, meaning the city is open to making adjustments based on ongoing feedback and collaboration. The plan is specifically for downtown festivals that require street closures.

The plan calls for keeping event set-up for all such festivals to the same area: on Main Street between First and High streets and on Second Street between Oak and Union streets. The stage must sit at the High Street end of Main Street.

The plan calls for all booths, food trucks, and other structures to be set up down the middle of Main and Second streets, 15 feet away from the curb, 10 feet away from any intersection corner, and with front entry facing toward the buildings.

The intersection of Main and Second streets must be clear of any setup. Barricades at First and Main streets must not impede traffic flow on those streets. All vehicle traffic is prohibited in the festival area while the roads are closed, including event organizers and vendors.

The down-the-middle booth layout and the curb clearance are safety measures, said Mayor Pat Closser. In the case of a large building fire in the festival area, the fire and EMS department needs to be able to pull its ladder truck to one side of the street in order to extend the ladder at the correct angle to the other side of the street to fight the fire, he explained.

Keeping booths in the middle of the street, rather than against the curbs on either side, keeps those booths out of the way should a building fall, added city council member Michael Norman, who has helped to spearhead the downtown festival discussion and solution-seeking. Breedlove said the clearance also ensures accessibility to ramps and sidewalks for people with mobility issues.

“It is all pretty much about the safety,” Norman said about the festival layout plans.

The plan calls for all elements of a festival to be cleared out by 11 p.m. on the last day of the festival to allow a clear path for the city street sweeper to come through.

Another change the plan proposes is a new route for any parades associated with downtown festivals. They will no longer be permitted to travel through the festival grounds where the streets are closed. Instead, the proposed parade route would start from a designated staging area on Park Avenue, turn onto Main Street heading toward East Fourth Street, turn onto East Fourth Street heading toward North Walnut Street, turn onto North Walnut Street heading toward Park Avenue, and end on Park Avenue where it started.

Questions and comments from council members
After hearing the plan, council member Greg Eades noted the proposed festival grounds no longer extend past First Street to the railroad tracks, making the festival area smaller. He asked if everything would still fit.

Breedlove said she believed the area would still accommodate the festivals’ needs, allowing for up to 62 10×10 vendor tents.

Norman asked if street closures for the festivals have been conducted properly in the past. Closser said there have been concerns that event organizers have not been contacting the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) which must be notified when state routes are involved.

“We need to meet with organizers earlier to make sure all these steps are being taken, so we have correct closures, especially for ODOT. It’s another piece to the whole plan,” Closser said.

Council President Joshua Peters asked if the plan applied to other events, not just the Strawberry Festival, Rhythm & Rib Fest, and Old Fashioned Christmas. Norman said the plan is the set-up for any downtown event that requires road closures.

“We’re setting these up exactly the same every time. The (emergency) response time is going to be quicker. (First responders) are not going to be guessing where everything is,” Norman said.

Council member Brent McDaniels stated, “I like keeping (the festivals) downtown and making it more safe, even if we have to change the parade route and it makes it more compliant and more courteous to the business owners.”

The city of London has developed a new route for parades associated with downtown festivals that involve road closures. The route will no longer go through the festival grounds.

Questions and comments from the public and festival organizers
Kevin and Holly Stockham, organizers of the London Strawberry Festival, were among the people who attended the town hall meeting. One of their concerns is the new proposed parade route.

“Of the three main events (that take place downtown), we’re the only ones that have a parade. I’m not sure why anybody would want to be in the parade if it doesn’t go through the festival. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Kevin said.

Holly added, “Every event in Ohio that I know of runs their parade right down the middle of their festival. So, you’re saying the city of London is better than every other city in the state of Ohio and surrounding states at safety because now we’re going to run it around?”

Closser responded, “We’re not saying that London is better than anybody or that London is safer than anybody. What we’re saying is we listened to our police chief, we listened to our fire and EMS chief, and this is what they’re telling us.”

Holly also said the new parade route presents a problem for the approximately 150 queens from other festivals who take part in the Strawberry Festival parade and, afterwards, introduce themselves and promote their festivals on stage. They would have to get from the Park Avenue parade end-point back to the stage, instead of the more direct plan the festival has used in the past, she said.

Norman agreed that the situation for the visiting royalty needs some thought. He and Closser stated that the city wants to work with festival organizers to find solutions where possible.

Faye Ross, owner of Sammi Faye’s in downtown London, encourages all parties involved to work together to find solutions to any concerns because she sees the festivals as a way to bring people to the downtown area and shine a spotlight on the businesses there.

“We are in such a crucial point of growth right now (in downtown London), that any festival is free marketing. It is free exposure. It is people coming downtown and saying, ‘Oh, wow, this is here now?’ We need to keep that momentum going or that will not continue in downtown London,” she said, adding that sales for her business increase significantly during festivals.

Several other people who attended the town hall meeting spoke up with comments, questions, and concerns.

One person commented about the parade route being shorter and, therefore, allowing for less room for spectators. One attendee stated there’s a need for better barriers for the street closures, that people have moved them in the past to get around them with their vehicles. Another attendee asked about vendor set-up times. A question was brought up about the Cobra car show that takes place during the London Strawberry Festival and closes off part of Main Street north of High Street.

Closser said the city is working on securing better road barriers, will look into vendor set-up times, and will work with the Cobra show to make things work.

At the conclusion of the town hall meeting, Closser said the city appreciates all of the questions, comments, concerns, and ideas and is already addressing some of them and taking the others into consideration. He welcomes additional feedback and input as the city continues to work on its festival plan. Comments can be shared by calling (740) 852-3243 or sending email to admin@londonohio.gov.

A slide show presentation of the survey results and festival plan can be found on the city’s website.

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