Main Street to boost its role in Riverfest|[05/22/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 22, 2008

Vicksburg Main Street will step up its participation in the city’s annual street party along Washington Street and act as a conduit between the city and the volunteer board that puts on the festival each year, said Rosalie Theobald, director of the business group.

City officials and board members have been working to tweak plans for future festivals. Mayor Laurence Leyens met with Riverfest and Main Street boards earlier this month to talk about changes he and the city would like to see. He said a letter formalizing the changes and stating all plans must be approved by Main Street, an agreement made between the two boards, was to be sent out this week.

“The mayor wants more participation from Main Street, and who better knows the downtown merchants than Main Street?” Theobald said.

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Main Street, funded through the city and taxes levied on properties in the downtown area, plans promotional events downtown and works with merchants. The organization is run by its two-person staff and a board, which is the decision-making body. The Riverfest board is a volunteer group, spun off by the Chamber of Commerce, which organized the first downtown festival with Main Street and downtown merchants. For years, the Main Street director has acted as a nonvoting member of the Riverfest board. Leyens indicated the new set-up would give Main Street a voice. Riverfest president and Main Street board member Ginny Tzotzolas said she’s happy to have the support of the group.

“I think it’s an excellent plan.”

The Riverfest board is now required to deliver contracts to downtown building and business owners that will outline festival details and require them to notify the board whether they will participate. If they do, Tzotzolas said, they will have to follow conditions.

“People will know our plans and know our goals, which will help reinforce and help make things happen,” she said.

Fencing along Washington will be taken down during Saturday’s free events to include all downtown merchants, Leyens said. The fences may be replaced for evening events.

This year’s Riverfest, on April 19-20 brought about 6,000 people downtown for nighttime festivities. When the curtain closed, volunteers touted it a success. But, a dust-up between board members and downtown business owner Robert Ware resulted in his business being closed to the public. Before the festival began, Ware told the board he was opposed to board members entering his business, The Ware House, to require his customers to purchase tickets or leave. Since no agreement was made, the board fenced off his property, which fills much of the 1400 block of Washington Street. The issue, however, was resolved and the fences were down by Saturday evening. Other business owners have also voiced concerns with the way the festival has been run. Leyens said his decision to encourage changes was from “feedback” over the years.

Looking at the future of Riverfest could mean moving it off Washington, a discussion planners have had, but are not planning soon. A move would allow for the festival to draw more people.

“We’re not considering it anytime soon. We have no immediate plans,” Tzotzolas said. “Ultimately, none of us want it to relocate.”

Next year’s festival is planned for April 17-18. So far, the board has had two meetings and plans to elect new volunteer members.