Town Hall meeting airs grievances and enthusiastic support

By Charlie McCarty | City Hall Reporter

The fate of Folly’s street festivals has been a hot topic over the past several months with some residents tired of the traffic problems and bad behavior, while others praise the festivals as commercial, tourism and municipal tax generators. At a June 11 Town Hall meeting on the subject, the Festival Committee appointed by Mayor Tim Goodwin, heard a little bit of both.

Approximately 38 residents turned out for the meeting held in City Council chambers (not including Councilmembers and staff). Committee members Eddie Ellis, Sandy Hickman and Pennell Clamp made brief introductory remarks that indicated the Committee was hoping to get added input to supplement that already provided at the prior Civic Club meeting on this subject.

Committee Chairman Ellis discouraged those in attendance that already provided input at that earlier meeting from repeating their comments in deference to those residents attending this who have yet to be heard from. He asked all residents to confine their input to three minutes, and reminded all planning to speak to sign the sheet at the back of the room. A total of nine residents signed up to speak and were given precedence in comments.  Another five residents were allowed to speak as time permitted.

Two speakers, Folly resident Susan Breslin and resident and attorney Keith Bolus had previously addressed their thoughts and recommendations at the Civic Club meeting, but indicated they simply wanted to add additional perceptions on the matter. Bolus wanted to add his personal review of the perceived added costs he felt the residents incurred as a result of the festivals and eluded to “hidden costs” (which he did not specify). Breslin described how she supported the festival concept, but wanted Council to constrain these to the period from late Fall through March 31. Another recently returned Folly resident, Charles McCarthy, felt the number of festivals was too many, that too many restaurant businesses were occupying Center Street and joined Barrister Bolus in worrying about possible city liability being found in the aftermath of the Festivals.

In counterpoint, attorney Nick Thomas (who introduced himself as the proud, self-acknowledged hotdog eating champion) praised the festival events as demonstrating the inclusionary spirit of Folly to all — residents and visitors together. He felt some refinements were inevitable, but that many residents’ discomforts could be overcome by their own pre-planning efforts before events. Long-term resident Elizabeth Beckmann recalled prior to Hurricane Hugo, the City resembled a “ghost-town” along Center Street during the off-season and said many of the costs presented earlier in the meeting were offset by Accommodations Tax receipts.

The statements of a clear majority of speakers (including business owners, not-for-profit community representatives, long-term residents and retirees) enthusiastically supported the festival movement on the island, and seemed to validate the statistical preferences and echoed recommendations for enhancements documented in the City’s own recent survey of both residents and non-residents.

Folly resident Scott Koster closed out as fourteenth speaker, expressing his feelings that the number of festivals was just about right, and felt that the earlier discussion of added costs to the City did not take into account increased vacation rentals revenues in the form of hospitality receipts brought in off-season by the festival attractions.

John Pence, representing the Folly Civic Club spoke favorably of the festivals, and indicated they combine to fund almost 56 percent of the not-for-profit organization’s philanthropic efforts (including scholarships for deserving local resident students and contributions to provide support for abused children).

Lewis Dodson, proprietor of the Drop In Deli, spoke for himself and the Folly Association of Businesses (FAB). He pointed out the integral support the festivals provide to the business owners, their employees (some of whom are residents) and the business infrastructure of the island.

Chairman Ellis asked if anyone wanted to say more. Bolus grabbed his notes and rose, but good-naturedly relented as a chorus of moans and a crescendo of Nos rose from the audience in response.

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