In anticipation of the 45th installment of the Delaware Arts Festival set for May 2018, organizers are seeking to expand the event’s footprint by requesting closure of downtown Delaware’s southernmost block.
During last week’s City Council meeting, Linda Shearer, president of the Delaware Arts Festival Board of Trustees, presented plans for closing down South Sandusky Street from William Street to Spring Street in addition to the annual closing of the middle and north blocks of Sandusky Street.
“This year we thought we would expand our horizons a little bit,” Shearer told council, which must give its consent to close down all three blocks of Sandusky Street within the downtown area for a special event.
Shearer said if permission is granted, the south block would be the location of food trucks, tables and chairs, corporate sponsor booths, and festival entertainment.
Based on what she’s heard, Shearer said merchants on South Sandusky Street between William and Spring streets are “thrilled” with the proposed idea.
“There is very little that goes on down there, and they always feel like they are left out,” Shearer said. “This would bring more foot traffic and involve them in that celebration that we have.”
The idea of closing down a section of South Sandusky Street to allow food trucks to operate in front of downtown restaurants drew concerns from Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle and Vice Mayor Kent Shafer, both of whom said they didn’t feel comfortable signing off on the closure until they have a chance to speak to those businesses in the south block.
Riggle said while the festival has been collecting petition signatures to support its case, she is aware of one business owner in particular who said she wouldn’t have signed the petition had she known the closure would allow for food trucks to operate within the block.
“I just want to make sure everybody is on the same page,” Riggle said. “If I owned a restaurant, I would not want a food vendor in front of mine.”
Shafer added while he thinks it’s a great idea to include the south block in the festival, he wants to make sure restaurant owners on the block are okay with food trucks being able to park there since downtown establishments in the past have been concerned with food trucks cutting into their bottom lines.
Council members Lisa Keller and George Hellinger, however, saw no issue with the block closure request.
“I guess from my perspective, I don’t see one weekend in Delaware as making or breaking some of those restaurants and businesses,” Keller said. “I think people who want to eat from a food truck will eat from a food truck, and the same people who want to go into a restaurant will probably still go into the restaurants.”
Hellinger agreed that there is “enough business to go around,” and he added, “The trade off is before (the merchants in the south block) were in a no man’s zone and there was no reason to come down there unless you were specifically going there. Now, at least, they get more walk-by business.”
Shearer said to help involve local merchants more in the Delaware Arts Festival, committee members have decided to push the start time on Saturday up an hour in order to end the event at 7 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.
“We’ve moved it up an hour … so that it might involve the restaurants downtown in the supper hour,” she said.
In addition to going later into the evening, the festival is introducing a new voucher system this year in which each exhibitor (approximately 190) will receive two $5 vouchers to use at participating restaurants with the festival to reimburse the restaurants following the event.
“We thought this would be a good way to boost their business,” Shearer said. “We are in their living room, and we are their guests. We really want to make it as profitable for everyone concerned as we do this.”
Council decided to table its decision on the additional block closure until its Dec. 21 meeting set for 7 p.m. at City Hall.