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Westminster Fallfest will not go forward this year due to coronavirus pandemic

Westminster will not hold its annual Fallfest this year, another event lost in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Mayor and Common Council said a restricted and socially distanced festival would not be worthwhile for guests, the city’s partners or the planning time and money needed to host it. Going forward, they are looking at ways to make up the loss for the nonprofits who benefit from the event.

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Monday’s meeting also included an update on the fiber internet network and discussion of a grant agreement with an economic development partner.

Director of the Department of Recreation and Parks Abby Gruber began the discussion about Fallfest and asked the council if staff should continue moving forward with the event. Communicating with the Carroll County Health Department, the city would have been permitted to host the event on the condition that they submit a social distancing and safety plan for approval.

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After discussion, the council directed staff to plan to cancel the event for this year.

Mayor Joe Dominck said the event “takes a whole lot of time money and resources planning this, and it takes a lot of people committing to it.”

Even in the best case, “we’re going to have a hobbled, watered-down version of an event that people have a certain image of in their minds,” he said.

Council member Tony Chiavacci said, jokingly, “As long as Ms. Gruber will agree to have a funnel cake truck brought onto Willis Street, I’ll support the mayor’s idea of going ahead and cancelling it.”

He added, “It pains me a lot ... I think our events are one of the best things that we do, and here’s one more that looks like it may become a casualty of this virus.” He agreed the Fallfest is one of the events that requires a lot of planning and involvement of outside organizations as well as volunteers.

Council member Ann Thomas Gilbert also agreed. “I’d rather take the time to take a break and bring back our Fallfest and all of our strolls to be at least what was expected, if not better,” she said.

Dominick added that, from a business perceptive, running the event in a diminished form could result in sponsor partners or guests not returning in coming years.

He asked Gruber for a list of the nonprofits chosen to benefit from the festival this year and suggested looking into organizations to help them with the burden.

Council President Greg Pecoraro said, “We’ve really developed a brand here in Westminster with our events. With the amount of work done by staff and volunteers, I would hate to see that diminished in any way,” he said.

Some of the city’s events are still undecided for the remainder of 2020, including the Oyster Stroll, Halloween festivities, Miracle on Main Street, the tree lighting and other winter holiday events.

Other business

Val Giovagnoni, city manager for Ting in Westminster, gave her quarterly report on Ting Internet, the business that supplies internet service to the fiber network built by the city.

She said the increase in people working from home has seemed to correlate with more requests for installation. She also shared an update with the Ting TV product that went into testing in other markets this year. The company chose not to move forward after those tests and is now planning to partner with another service. She said more details would be forthcoming next quarter.

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During council comments, Pecoraro said he has been speaking to restaurant owners who anticipate their guests wanting to dine outdoors even moving into the fall and colder weather. He hoped the city would listen to what the business owners propose and work to accommodate them.

Chiavacci said he had heard similarly. At least two restaurateurs he spoke to have said they are interested in continuing more outdoor dining going forward, even beyond the threat of COVID-19.

The council also voted to again enter into a $80,000 grant agreement for the year with the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory, or MAGIC, a tech and entrepreneurship-focused nonprofit in the city.

The city’s Economic Development Committee proposed changes to the agreement this year, centered around MAGIC becoming more financially independent from the city and quantifying their outreach to business CEOs.

The council voted to approve the agreement. Council member Benjamin Yingling was the sole vote against. He serves on the Economic Development Committee and was part of the discussions. He said they made good progress on the grant agreement toward more financial independence for MAGIC, but he still had reservations and would like to see a schedule for that change, “which we just couldn’t agree on,” he said.

No citizens submitted public comments for the meeting.

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