City, community and business leaders scrambled Wednesday to find a way to keep Hampdenfest 2014 from being canceled because of a conflict with Sailabration.
"Everything is fluid," said Hampdenfest co-organizer Benn Ray, president of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, who hosted a public meeting at his bookstore, Atomic Books.
The meeting, attended by about 30 Hampden merchants, City Council members Mary Pat Clarke and Nick Mosby, and representatives of the mayor's office and Department of General Services, produced a consensus that organizers should try to reschedule Hampdenfest for Sept. 20, one of the two alternate dates that the city offered to organizers.
"This festival is too important not to happen," said Mosby, who noted that his email box has been flooded since news broke Tuesday that the longtime festival was canceled.
Organizers said much will depend on whether they can get most of the 115 vendors to commit to a new date on short notice and whether the city can provide security, stages, barricades, generators and other equipment and manpower needed. Vendors and the fees they pay are a big moneymaker for the festival, organizers said.
Those at the meeting agreed to come back Wednesday, July 23, for another meeting and hopefully to make a decision.
Organizers announced on their Facebook page that they canceled Hampdenfest, scheduled for Sept. 13, after city officials told them the city could not provide support for both Sailabration, Sept. 10-16, and Hampdenfest.
Organizers said the city offered them alternative dates on the weekends before and after Sailabration, but that rescheduling the festival for those dates would diminish it — partly because many vendors and bands would be booked elsewhere — and that they would rather not have a festival than put on a "ramshackle" one.
But one local business owner, Steve Baker, who runs the popular toilet races at the festival, said he still thinks the annual fest conceivably could go on, albeit in a more limited form.
""I'm opposed to it being shut down," Clarke said, calling the festival crucial to the promotion of the Hampden business community, as well as a reliable neighborhood festival on the second Saturday of September each year.
She also said the festival was nearly shut down in 2012 because of a similar conflict with Sailabration, but that the crisis was averted 10 days before the festival.
Now, Clarke said, "We have two months to figure out how to get enough resources there to keep (this year's) festival going."
Caron Brace, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office, said city officials became concerned earlier this month when they saw Hampdenfest advertised on Facebook for Sept. 13, in the midst of Sailabration downtown.
At that point, city officials contacted organizers and told them Sept. 13 wasn't a good date, Brace said. She said the city has "blacked out" dates before, including for the Grand Prix.
"The city needs to manage our resources as best we can," to ensure public safety for the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to attend the "national" event, she said.
But she said the city also recognizes that Hampdenfest is a longtime annual festival popular with local residents.
"The city is still open to trying to work with (organizers) to identify a date," rather than canceling the festival, Brace said. "It doesn't have to be this way."
Douglas Gibson, a community liaison officer for the Northern District and a veteran of past Hampdenfests, said he expected police to have their hands full with Sailabration and that all leave for officers citywide has been canceled to assist coverage for that event, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner.
"With leave canceled, it is difficult for police to pick up the overtime detail such as the Hampdenfest, although it's only a few officers," Gibson said in an email.
The fall festival, which mostly takes place on West 36th Street, aka The Avenue, is well-liked by residents and business owners, who view it as more community-minded than the regionally known HonFest in June.
Hampdenfest has also gained a following in recent years for its toilet races, for which hundreds of people line both sides of Chestnut Avenue. And it is known for its live bands on three separate stages on The Avenue.
It's the second major annual event in Hampden to be canceled in recent months. The 41st annual Hampden Mayor's Christmas Parade was canceled in December 2013, for the first time in the parade's history, because of snow.
"After careful discussion with our festival partners, the organizers of Hampdenfest are saddened to have to announce that it won't be possible to put on Hampdenfest in 2014," the Facebook announcement states. "Given the logistics and planning that goes into putting on a festival the size of Hampdenfest, it is simply not possible to switch dates this close to when it was originally scheduled to take place.
"Changing dates means losing sponsors, vendors and entertainers. Also, pushing the festival back later means we would be in conflict with other major city festivals and events. So, the organizers have determined that instead of throwing together a ramshackle festival as a result of this date change, it's best for Hampdenfest to regretfully take a year off.
"We are determined to use this time to begin planning for 2015's Hampdenfest to once again put on a festival the neighborhood can be proud of," the statement concludes.
Ray said the city threw Hampdenfest planning into disarray because so much of the festival depends on the city, from providing tents, booths and stages to sending health and code inspectors out in advance of the festival.
Adam Feuerstein, president of the Hampden Community Council, said the council was disappointed and hoped that organizers and the city could work something out to save a festival that "celebrates our great neighborhood."
Baker, owner of the WhollyTerra art studio in Hampden and founder of the five-year-old toilet races, said, "I like having my little neighborhood festival."
Baker said festival organizers might be giving up too soon and that he thinks a scaled-back festival could still go on, including the toilet races.
"I don't think we've exhausted our options," Baker said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun