Is the city killing festivals?

September 14, 1992

For several months now, groups and individuals have bee complaining about Baltimore City's changing attitude toward festivals and other weekend crowd attractions. The gist of the complaint is that revisions of long-time permit practices by the Schmoke administration are making it more difficult for sponsors to organize these popular events.

The latest controversy concerns Fells Point Fun Festival, a 26-year-old tradition that draws up to 200,000 revelers to that old Southeast Baltimore maritime neighborhood each October.

For all these years, the festival has been allowed to operate with unparalleled freedom and informality. An example: Whether purchased from the numerous neighborhood taverns or from trucks on the streets, visitors have been allowed to carry their cups of beer around.

There have been occasional problems, but never major ones. In many festival-goers' minds this type of relaxed enforcement of usually stringent rules has contributed to the event's Mardi Gras atmosphere.

This year, city bureaucrats have decided it's time to change rules. As a condition of a festival permit, they are thinking of banning carry-around cups of beer and limiting quaffing of the malt to one beer garden.

For all we know, the city's proposal might, in fact, be a good idea. But with the festival scheduled for Oct. 3 and 4, we cannot understand why the city is still mulling over changes.

As days go by without decisions, this procrastination is putting the Society for the Preservation of Fells Point and Federal Hill Inc. in an increasingly problematic situation. That sponsor organization contracted space to 300 vendors months ago under the assumption the event would be held as in the past. Now it doesn't know what to do.

Particularly since the annual City Fair was allowed to die a slow death, the Fells Point Fun Festival has been one of the city's major seasonal weekend celebrations.

Over the years, proceeds from the festival have bankrolled lawsuits that stopped expressway planners from destroying Fells Point and Federal Hill, two historic neighborhoods that are now experiencing a renaissance and producing an increasing amount of property tax revenue. Festival profits also have funded other worthwhile preservation projects.

The city has a great thing going here. Why would it want to kill this golden goose by allowing inept bureaucrats to procrastinate with permits? If rules are changed, such changes ought to be considered well in advance and not just weeks before a major event.

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