Council to vote on resolution for July 3 fireworks show

Thursday, June 18, 2020

By Samantha Jones

Eureka Springs might have a fireworks show on July 3, but the status of other events are unclear.

At a special called meeting on Monday, June 15, the Eureka Springs City Council heard from a community group about a plan called Safe Open Streets and Six Weeks of Fun. Kent Butler, assistant executive director at the Great Passion Play, kicked off the presentation by saying the group is serious about safety, saying he has implemented several safety measures at the Passion Play to stay open. Butler said the group had hoped to introduce downtown programming starting July 3, but the rising numbers of COVID-19 in Carroll County could delay that time frame.

“I fully understand the challenges,” Butler said. “Our goal is to keep people safe. How can we make tourism safe for the people who come here?”

Jacqueline Wolven, executive director of Main Street Eureka Springs, said the group began with a steering committee in March. That committee hosted a community-wide meeting on Zoom, Wolven said, which was attended by 85 people including representatives from around the state. All the ideas that came out of that meeting, Wolven said, were condensed by a focus group. Eventually, Wolven said, the group established the plan for six weeks of programming in Eureka Springs with a focus on open streets.

“These aren’t our ideas,” Wolven said. “These are the community’s ideas.”

Butler described the first part of the plan, which would feature a fireworks show every Friday for those six weeks.

“Fireworks are a great way to show people that we are open. It’s a great activity,” Butler said, “but it’s also a distant activity with multiple vantage points for people to observe.”

The next part of the plan, Wolven said, is to offer an arts and entertainment corridor on safe, open streets. That would involve removing parking on Springs Street, Wolven said, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Wolven clarified that parking would be removed from Center Street to Mountain Street and suggested reinstating the entertainment district within those proposed boundaries.

“People wanted this above anything else in the community brainstorm meeting,” Wolven said. “They wanted the ability to eat outside. They wanted the ability to walk downtown with more space.”

Wolven said it’s important to reinstate the entertainment district so that people can drink in the open air.

“We want people to dine outside. We want them to be able to have that full experience of dining as they would inside the restaurant,” Wolven said. “It’s not just closing the streets. It’s about having an open air walkway that feels inviting and is perfect for programming. This is a crowd management program.”

The third part of the plan, Butler said, is six weeks of programming that includes pre-existing programs in Eureka Springs. Butler said the group would add smaller elements through themed weeks including relighting downtown Eureka Springs, an arts weekend with a community mural painting on Main Street, a super soaker weekend, a music series in Basin Spring Park and more.

“It’s really based around things already happening in Eureka Springs,” Butler said.

Butler said the group is very in tune with safety protocols. He described the precautions, saying all events would meet guidelines consistent with the Arkansas Festivals Association and protocols will comply with guidance provided by the Arkansas Department of Health. The group will apply for event permits, Butler said, along with requesting an Arkansas Department of Health review for each event. Other safety protocols include staffed entrances at Basin Spring Park with one way in and one way out; roped-off viewing areas for the fireworks show; spaced seating at an outdoor movie and safety patrol during the proposed Artrageous Parade.

“We just have a lot to go through to make sure things are safe,” Butler said. “There’s an amazing amount of work that has to be happen for any event to happen at this point in time.”

According to the presentation, it would cost $30,000 to $42,000 to have fireworks, $130,000 for programming and protocols, and $175,000 for advertising and public relations. The group already has money pledged to certain events, including $5,000 for the grand illumination event, $5,000 for the mural, $7,000 for fireworks and $24,000 for advertising. Wolven said the group has received funding from a few different sources.

“We have been going outside of the city to get this money,” Wolven said. “We are asking other people to invest in us, and that’s where the money is coming from. Businesses locally are allocating money they got from the state of Arkansas into this programming.”

The next step in the process, Butler said, is to get a fireworks permit for a show on July 3. Butler said the group is open to bi-monthly evaluation from the council to begin the Open Safe Streets and Six Weeks of Fun programming. While the group had hoped to start programming in early July, Butler said, that plan will evolve as the local COVID-19 situation becomes more clear.

“If we were to do the fireworks show on July 3, we’d need to get the permitting,” Butler said. “We’d need to get that done, like, tomorrow, so if the city council is open to that, we would like to pursue that.”

Wolven said the group would like to have “checkpoints” with the council to evaluate when it’s appropriate to roll out the programming.

“Too often things just disappear,” Wolven said, “and so much work has been put into this. It’s really, really thoughtful planning. We want to continue to have this conversation with both the mayor’s office and city council.”

Council member Mickey Schneider pointed out that Wolven and Butler took off their face coverings while speaking into the mic, standing 12 feet apart.

“If you’re talking about following protocol and stuff … you’re not,” Schneider said. “The mayor and the council agreed when we started meeting here on masks 100 percent of the time. Twelve feet doesn’t cut it. Don’t stand there, Jackie. Put your mask on.”

Butler apologized for taking his mask off and said he wasn’t aware of the protocol. Schneider then asked where the group plans to shoot the fireworks and Butler said Marble Flats.

“Why do you want fireworks every week?” Schneider asked.

“It’s extremely magical. You can enjoy that from virtually anywhere you’re staying in Eureka Springs,” Butler said, “so people do not have to be together to attend an event in Eureka Springs.”

Schneider asked why the group wants to close parking on Spring Street for three consecutive days and Wolven said it’s about consistency.

“When people see things repeatedly, they get more comfortable with it,” Wolven said. “If we take it up and take it down, people will get confused.”

Schneider said the citizens “stated emphatically” that they don’t want a permanent entertainment district without voting on it, and Wolven said an entertainment district is the safest way for people to enjoy local bars.

“What you did in February or January was one thing, but we live in a whole different world now,” Wolven said, “and I think you need to think about that.”

“But the people have spoken emphatically,” Schneider said.

“Times change,” Wolven said. “People change their minds.”

Council member Harry Meyer said people won’t be wearing a mask if they’re drinking on the street.

“No, this is not a good idea,” Meyer said. “At this time, we’ve got a serious … outbreak in incidents of COVID-19, and we have no idea where that’s going to peak, so there’s really no reason to discuss this right now.”

Council member Melissa Greene said she heard from citizens that they could only see last year’s fireworks show downtown or at the Crescent Hotel, and Wolven said that’s not true.

“You could see them at the Passion Play. You could see them at Pine Mountain Village,” Wolven said. “You could see them at the train station depot parking lot. It’s really a whole area.”

Council member Terry McClung said he enjoyed the fireworks show last year and thinks there should be a fireworks show on July 3. McClung moved to have a fireworks show on July 3. Bob Thomas, Susan Harman and McClung voted yes, while Greene, Meyer and Schneider voted no. Mayor Butch Berry voted yes to break the tie.

Immediately after the vote, city attorney Tim Weaver urged the council against taking further action.

“Mr. Mayor, you’ve taken an action. This is a special meeting. To continue on would potentially be a violation of the open meeting act,” Weaver said.

The council agreed to hear public comments but did not take further action. On Tuesday afternoon, city clerk Ann Armstrong confirmed that the council will vote on a resolution for the fireworks show at its next regular meeting.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, June 22, at the Auditorium.

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  • The fireworks are a great idea. Social distancing and great fun for everybody. Not sure why all the negativity. Also, the whole public comment thing seemed a bit of a set up to me. An impromptu public comment segment in a special meeting? Only those against tourists showing up and with prepared notes? How come there were no tourism businesses or workers there to speak? The video didn't show any of the people speaking, but most sure sounded like the same old complainers we had before quarantine who line up every time the city wants to do something that's not about them.

    -- Posted by clptravel on Thu, Jun 18, 2020, at 10:50 PM
  • It did appear staged. Not sure if the mayor knew, but I’m sure he knew only one side was being heard. Others were, apparently, told not to come because it was a special meeting and, therefore, no public comments. The weird thing is it seemed the presenters and the protesters were basically saying the same thing. Safety, safety, safety. It sounded like the protesters had already prepared their comments prior to the meeting though and they didn't really fit with what was presented. Oh well. Same old, same old. Credit to Bob Thomas for recognizing it and leaving.

    -- Posted by rb2020 on Fri, Jun 19, 2020, at 11:02 AM
  • I doubt the mayor intentionally let these people put one over on him. He's given every indication in the way he has managed the city during this crisis that the financial numbers are not going to be that bad. Either that or there's an expectation of a big bailout for small tourist towns, but the chances for that are pretty low. Even with the optimistic financial expectations coming out of city hall, however, I don't think he would ever intentionally encourage the driving away of tourists by anyone. In order for the city to survive, it's still going to need plenty of tourist dollars no matter what happens with the virus. Unfortunately, not everyone has that economic experience and understanding which leads to these embarrassing public tirades and poor judgement on city council votes. The fact is, it's not a matter of "safety or tourism". It's more "juggling tourism/virus vs let's pack up and move to a new town that's viable, affordable and not falling apart".

    -- Posted by Theuncommonsense on Mon, Jun 22, 2020, at 10:16 AM
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