No Longer a Festival City?

September 26, 1992

A week ago, Baltimore City bureaucrats suddenly canceled the popular weekend flea market at Memorial Stadium.

Never mind that the event reportedly netted $2,000 every week for the city's treasury. Never mind that it was visited by thousands of people from throughout the metropolitan area. The flea market was canceled because City Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, who lives directly behind the stadium, complained. Marlyn J. Perrit, the city's parks and recreation director, then declared it shut down (without any advance notice to the public), claiming it was "beyond control."

The good news this week is that after media publicity and petitions by hundreds of flea market goers, the city has allowed the market to relocate to a parking lot adjoining the old Eastern High School, across from the stadium on 33rd Street.

This whole unnecessary mess reflects City Hall's evident hostility toward privately sponsored festivals and weekend events.

Instead of encouraging such celebrations, bureaucrats in the Schmoke administration seemingly want to get rid of them. They appear to be succeeding.

Officials of various city-based festivals complain that so many bureaucratic road blocks have been erected before them that they may have to consider locations outside Baltimore's boundaries.

This is unfathomable shortsightedness on the part of City Hall at a time when Baltimore desperately needs every opportunity to foster feelings of togetherness and joy. Every festival and weekend event that dies takes something away from livability in the city. As livability diminishes, the bad-news headlines will loom even larger. More and more families may become discouraged and decide that living in the city is beyond hope.

The city says it is being forced to reconsider its infrastructure support to private events because of financial distress. We can understand that. But this policy shift has been implemented without adequate explanations to many sponsoring organizations of long-running festivals. Those groups often sympathize with the city government's financial difficulties and are willing to share costs. But they need adequate time to do that.

This whole matter is so important to the atmosphere of Baltimore that we urge Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to meet with representatives of established festivals and summer events and explain the needed changes. He should also appoint a voluntary coordinator of special events to mediate disputes and misunderstandings with sponsoring groups and with the many overlapping bureaucracies involved in granting permits.

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