One night every August for the past 10 years, Belfast officials have closed two downtown streets to traffic in order to hold a huge party that brings thousands of folks out to dance, eat, ride and play.
This year, though, the future of the Belfast Street Party is being redesigned, as the group that has sponsored it since at least 2010 announced on Monday it will not be involved in the event this year.
“After many thoughtful conversations and careful consideration, Our Town Belfast has decided that we will be stepping away from the summer street party in 2019,” the nonprofit’s board of directors wrote in an email to Belfast Downtown Business Group.
Zach Schmesser, the executive director of the program, said Wednesday that the decision was made for several reasons. August is a challenging time of year for business owners to participate in an event like this one, because they may be on vacation themselves, he said.
As well, last year, the street party suffered from a shortage of volunteers and may not be a great fit with the mission of the organization, which is part of a national network of programs that aim to build stronger communities through preservation-based economic development.
Finally, Our Town Belfast officials also heard from some people that the street party is an “overwhelming experience,” he said, and not necessarily in a good way.
“The rides aren’t free,” Schmesser said. “Moving forward, we’re looking for ways to have a family-friendly event that doesn’t cost money. Money is a barrier to folks. We saw families having to have hard conversations with their kids about not participating in rides that other families were participating in.”
But not holding the street party doesn’t sound like a good option to City Councilor Mike Hurley, who helped start the street party in 2009. August is the best time for an event of this type, he said, because so many people are around, including college students who are home for break, summer visitors and others.