First, Mayor Vincent C. Gray upset some Caribbean and neighborhood activists when he didn’t do more to keep the annual Caribbean Festival from moving to Baltimore.
Now, the administration has caused a kerfuffle because it wants to move the Fiesta D.C. Hispanic heritage festival from Mount Pleasant to Pennsylvania Avenue, which D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) warns could be the beginning of the end for the event.
After hundreds of thousands surged into Mount Pleasant’s business district for last year’s festival, some organizers suggested that it be moved to a more spacious location, perhaps back to 14th Street in Columbia Heights or Petworth.
But District public safety officials nixed the idea, saying they could not guarantee public safety in surrounding neighborhoods if busy 14th street was closed.
One of the city’s busiest fire stations is located at 14th and Meridian Streets NW, and that station would have to be taken out of service if the festival was relocated to Columbia Heights, city officials said.
Paul Quander, deputy mayor for public safety, suggested that the event be held on Pennsylvania Avenue NW near the Mall, where it could attract hundreds of thousands of patrons without causing significant disruption to safety or transportation.
“We are working with the organizers right now, to assure that the festival goes on,” said Pedro Ribeiro, a Gray (D) spokesman. “We think the festival is great for the District. It’s an important part of cultural life and we want it to continue.”
But some organizers and activists say moving the festival out of the historical center of city’s Hispanic community will diminish its character. Some have started an online petition asking Gray to reconsider.
“The community is supporting Fiesta DC and want it back in the community,” the petition states. “Fiesta DC is the community and needs to stay in the community. “
Graham, who represents Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, is also questioning the decision. Graham notes the city frequently closes streets and issues festival permits to close major neighborhood thoroughfares.
“For wonderful charities, we have blocked the whole city off, but they could pay,” said Graham, referring to charitable walks and foot races. “We can shut down streets to accommodate that, but when it comes to some of our neighborhood situations, we are unable to do the same thing?”
In its 25-year history, Graham said Fiesta DC was twice previously located on Pennsylvania Avenue but “failed miserably.”
“It’s not going to be successful,” Graham said. “It’s not going to be the same feeling.”
“It’s too big for Mount Pleasant,” one Gray administration official said. “It’s no longer a neighborhood event. It’s a much larger event.”
In recent months, Quander and Gray have been taking a tougher line in regulating and overseeing neighborhood festivals that for decades have helped define summer in the District.
After the financially troubled Caribbean Festival failed to settle its $210,000 debt with the city this year, the administration withheld support for it returning to Georgia Avenue NW. Tired of negotiating with the District, event organizers announced last month that this year’s Caribbean Festival will be held in Baltimore.
“I fear that we are fast reaching the point that . . . our neighborhood festivals will occur only if they are confined downtown,” Graham wrote to Quander on Saturday.