Consultations to take place about the impact downtown events are having on Main Street merchants

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“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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13 Comments

  1. I was visiting my Sister on High street and decided to do some shopping at the mall. When I returned home, the streets were blocked and I could not drive back to my Sister’s house. I had to leave my car in Brendale parking lot and walk. Events that deny access, should not be allowed.I now make it a point not to visit Huntsville on week-ends where such events are being held.

  2. wendy J brown on

    Ok this is what ive always wondered it dosnt have anything to do with the triathalon but i have an opinion about events that scatter parking all over the back streets. Anyway i always thought that during the winter season pre christmas we should have either a german market on the main street or perhaps some kind of victorian christmas with booths on the main street to bring people to it. German markets are springing up all over but i think the victorian christmas would make more money for the downtown businesses although anything that brings people and keeps them down there for a bit of time would benefit them. The town we lived in had one and all the stores had hot cider or hot chocolate and cookies and people would wander around in and out of all of them, they also had sleigh rides and wagon rides and santa claus on the steps in front of the town hall. And a box where kids could post there christmas letters. Maybe put some thought into that and perhaps bring back the winter carnival also it was bags of fun .

  3. Why does it always have to be the downtown core?
    What about other areas like the Walmart/Homedepot area.
    Maybe not because of lost revenue??
    Curious.

  4. Rich Trenholm on

    I must agree with Counsellor Thompson‘s comments regarding the flow of patrons and financial impact in the days leading up to events like the Ironman in the downtown core. I would have to say that there is the opinion that these things impact the potential for businesses to earn a living during the summer months, at the same time this is a given crowd that is a captive audience that could certainly be captivated and engaged to further the financial success of these businesses. Quite possibly the comments about notifications about events needs to be brought in to include the BIA, but additionally, the BIA and the businesses should look at how they can get creative and captivate the audience in front of them and capitalize on the opportunity. The spectators are down there, often for several hours, and they are waiting to see one or two athletes that they are there to watch pass by in a matter of seconds. This leaves a lot of time up there looking for things to do, places to eat, etc. So my question for the businesses with respect to the audience in front of them is not what are they doing for you, but rather what are you doing for them. It’s a two-way street. Cafe Affagato is a great example where they got creative and had an attraction that was completely unrelated to the café that brought athletes and spectators into a non-Main Street business. They got creative and hopefully captivated the audience and capitalized on the opportunity.

    Although the flow of traffic was suboptimal this year compared to last year‘s event which was a double loop type course that impacted less of the major roads, it must be noted that the run course was changed simply because there is projected construction in the downtown core so the run course could not go where it had been in previous years which allowed better traffic flow around the community. Traffic flow, both public and emergency services, is always considered very seriously in the run courses and bike courses. There are a lot of comments on social media with respect to “what happens if I’m having a heart attack or I need to get to the hospital quickly?” or “what if my house is on fire?”, and the answer is that services would get to you as there is no impediment to these vehicles getting to areas in need.

    I have a number of years often these comments, I just felt it was time to say something from my perspective. As a medical director for 70.3, I want to make sure that are the athletes safe, but the members of our community are safe they are at home or on the road.. I also want to see our community active and thriving which can only happen by having big events like these in our community. Bring an audience from around the world to our doorstep that might not otherwise have come just by wanting to rent a cottage or stay in a hotel somewhere.

    Something that a number of our community members may not know about the 70.3 is that community groups and charities benefit greatly from having this event in town. Charities and community groups that commit to volunteer to get a financial donation back to their group in return for supporting and being part of the event. So that is just one of the trickle down effects.

    I cannot comment with respect to ribfest and I’m sorry that the miscommunication that happened, but events like these are what make our community amazing to live in.

    • Rich is exactly right. I just checked our numbers and that Triathlon Sunday was our best Sunday in July. We are open 9 to 9 everyday in the summer and our early morning sales (to spectators) was significantly higher then a typical Sunday morning. I also noticed many stores were not open?!?
      As Rich said people were begging for something to do. Events in this great town bring the people; it is up to us to get their business.

  5. I personally think any event that blocks of streets other than main st. from Center st. to Brunel rd should not be allowed to many times it’s Brunel rd that gets shut down or restricted If they want all the bike races then build a track get them off the main roads where they are a pain not just on race day but every day.

  6. Only comment I have is that there are 4 churches in downtown. Ok to get to on the Sun morning, but trying to get Out of downtown at 11-12:30 took an hr to cross Main st, with only 1 intersection open. I live 6 min from downtown. All athletes were running, with 2 police officers letting 1-2 cars thru at a time. Those coming Into town at that hr. on Centre were backed up past the
    West/Centre st intersection.

    • That is true Pat. In the past, our club in conjunction with the company running the Ironman has contacted the minister of the churches in the downtown core to pass on the information to the congregation so that they are aware, or they could consider moving the service to an earlier time to avoid the parking and traffic flow concerns. Not sure if it happened this year but it has in the past

  7. I have read this article and all the comments. I think perhaps it’s time for Huntsville to decide what it wants and needs for its permanent population. Knowing that this year and next are going to be challenging for everyone because of ongoing construction in the core areas of the town, should mean making life a little less stressful for the residents and the business owners. I don’t have a problem with the Ironman event, but I don’t see why it has to have such an impact on the core of town. The Band on the Run event is not held in July or August when the town is flooded with visitors and the event itself does not impact the roads after noon. I agree with the person who asked why it always has to be Brunel which is closed being as it’s a very integral part of the geography of Huntsville. Even at 4:00 pm on July 7th, I couldn’t get to my son’s house without going a very long way around town to get to my own birthday party! Please consider the permanent population when planning events which may have a more negative outcome than a lucrative one for those who work, play and support Huntsville 365 days a year!

  8. My family and I own a cottage in the Huntsville area. We went into town for Ribfest and didn’t stay. The music was so loud it was deafening. We had been to the Bracebridge Rib fest a few years earlier and loved it.
    Never got to try the Huntsville Rib Fest. Also, in addition there was a charge of $3.00/person to eat ribs !!! Really. Bracebridge was free! I would never pay $3.00 for the right to buy dinner.
    I really feel sorry for anyone within 10 blocks of the stage who were exposed to that decibel rating. Absolutely not fare at all to people.
    Next year, we will note the date of the Bracebridge Rib fest and attend it.
    Thanks

  9. Ryan Vallentin on

    Closing Main Street from Brunel to Center makes a lot of sense, it is EASILY bypassed. Closing the bridge is the real problem, and my understanding is that the Ironman does not regularly close the bridge.

    Brunel should never be fully closed, one lane isn’t a problem provided that the direction of travel for vehicles is reversed North-South-North-South every few minutes with proper flag people or police officers. It is WAY too long to get around Brunel when one direction is closed completely.

  10. When we left church we had to get across west road and go up hwy 11. to 60 and back to spend money at chucks. It took a long time to get there. It was not just in town where there was a problem, because cars were stopped on hwy 11 itself not even able to get ontothe ramp. Can you say a case for possible chain reaction rear enders.

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