“I feel as though, in some ways, our little downtown core has become a victim of its own success with a lot of events,” Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison told his fellow councillors at their July 22 regular council meeting.
He said he’s heard many complaints from downtown merchants, the most recent example was during RibFest when the parking lot in River Mill Park was closed for several days. He also spoke of the closure of the downtown swing bridge during the Ironman event, which clogged traffic in the downtown core.
“And so I felt it was wise for us to have some kind of conversation about this just because in July and August I hear regularly from particularly Main Street business owners who point out that they really sort of have 60 days of key business that they really need to make sure they can make it through the year,” he said. “And when we make it difficult for them to run their business for those 60 crucial days in the calendar, it’s really hard for them.”
Aitchison said as a result of the location of the start and finish of the Ironman event and the closing of the swing bridge, he heard from many Main Street business owners that on that day Main Street was a ghost town.
He opened up the issue for discussion around the council table, and suggested that perhaps Town staff could work with all of the volunteer groups and look at instituting policies when it comes to hosting events in the downtown, particularly during the months of July and August.
“We should talk about whether we should not permit the closure of the swing bridge in those months, for example. Or not permit the closure of any parking lots in those two months,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano, who sits on the board of the downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA), said she heard many complaints from business owners in the downtown at the last BIA meeting. She said complaints ranged from event organizers putting outhouses or tents in front of the front entrance to their shops, rental pickup and drop-offs taking place at the back of their stores, and unacceptable gridlock through the downtown, and she said business owners would also like to see policies in place with respect to certain events properly communicated with the BIA.
“There were also some calls that I personally had about the noise. I guess with the RibFest, music was part of it, but it was going from Noon to 10 at night and it was carrying four and five blocks away from downtown,” she said.
Huntsville Councillor Brian Thompson said he had not heard anything other than seeing some discussions on social media. He said some of the discussion involved loss of revenue on a normal Sunday or the weekend of an event. “The question that came out of that for me was… if your revenue is down from what it would normally be on a Sunday on that day, how did… the 70.3 [Ironman] impact on the volume of business you did in the days prior to that,” he questioned.
Councillor Jonathan Wiebe wondered if there was a breakdown in communication between the BIA and the various groups and events taking place. Terziano said generally event organizers are required to notify certain people and sometimes that’s where the communication breakdown occurs. Councillor Jason FitzGerald suggested that all affected parties could be automatically notified as part of the Town’s internal processing of event applications so that no one gets missed.
“I just wanted to add one more thing because I didn’t want my list of things to just be on a negative,” said Terziano. “The downtown businesses are not against the triathlon by any means but one comment I missed is that maybe July is not the best month for it.
Thompson said he thought that the idea behind bringing events such as the Ironman to the downtown was that it would be beneficial for the downtown. He said perhaps when it’s really hot people will not go to the downtown to watch the athletes. “So maybe the July date might not be particularly wrong, just maybe the location of the start and the finish maybe, so something should be considered.”
In the end, the council agreed to ask staff to hold consultations with those impacted and report back to them.
“But I’d like that consultation to occur as quickly as possible,” said Aitchison.
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