Downtown Street Fairs Crippled by City's Weekday Ban

By Julie Shapiro on July 25, 2011 7:27am 

LOWER MANHATTAN — Downtown street fairs are bleeding money after the city banned them from taking place on weekdays, organizers say.

Joe Giovanni, president of Mardi Gras Festival Productions, which runs most of lower Manhattan's street fairs, expects the new holiday and weekend-only events to bring in half as much money as the weekday ones did last year.

"It's a disaster for everyone," Giovanni said.

The weekday ban doesn't just mean less money in Giovanni's pocket — it also means it's harder for vendors to make back the fees they pay to participate, and it's harder for the nonprofits and agencies that sponsor the fairs to raise the funds they are counting on.

Community Board 1, for example, planned to raise about $30,000 this year by sponsoring a series of street fairs. The money supplements the board's city budget and helps buy new equipment and office supplies, staff said.

After the city announced its new policy in May, the board scrambled to move its fairs from weekdays to weekends, but some residents worried that the fried-food fests would be too noisy and disruptive on Saturdays and Sundays.

And even since the fairs won the community's backing, they've been losing money this summer because there isn't enough foot traffic on weekends, Giovanni said.

Now, it's becoming hard to convince vendors to participate in the summer's remaining downtown fairs because the vendors know they won't have strong sales, Giovanni said.

"We're getting murdered," he said.

The city enacted the weekday street fair ban this spring because of the massive amount of construction taking place in lower Manhattan, a mayoral spokesman said in May.

Major, time-sensitive projects in the area below Canal Street on the west and the Brooklyn Bridge on the east include the World Trade Center, the Fulton Transit Center and the Chambers, Hudson and Peck Slip water main replacements.

Since it's so hard to find a good weekend location for a street fair downtown, the city is now pushing Giovanni and CB1 to combine three of their remaining street fairs into one long one on Broadway from Vesey Street all the way down to Exchange Place, a nine-block stretch that is likely to raise community objections.

"We're between a rock and a hard place here," said Ro Sheffe, chairman of CB1's Financial District Committee.

"It's [about choosing] the lesser of several evils."

The ban has also affected other downtown groups, including the P.S. 89 PTA, which was forced to scale back plans for its annual Run for Knowledge fundraiser this September because the city would not allow the school to shut down its Warren Street block for an afternoon.

Giovanni said he has tried to compromise with the city, offering to do a weekday fair on just half of a street, or even just the curb lane of a street, but he said the city is concerned about the precedent that would set.

A mayoral spokesman said in May that the city would reevaluate the weekday street fair ban annually.

Noah Pfefferblit, district manager at CB1, said the city has not offered any reassurances that everything will be back to normal next year.

A spokesman for the mayor's office, which oversees the Street Activity Permit Office, did not respond to requests for comment.

Neighborhood Sponsors

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement