Manassas City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes formally rejected plans Monday for an outdoor Mardi Gras celebration in Old Town, even as nearby businesses rallied in support of the event.
Old Town Business Association President Ray Willis said that, as of Tuesday, results from a survey he conducted showed that a Mardi Gras festival is backed by about 75 percent of the group's members.
Charles Gilliam, co-owner of Okra's Louisiana Bistro and Mardi Gras organizer, told the City Council that he will appeal the ruling with support from the business association and recently named co-sponsors Philadelphia Tavern, Foster's Grille and Jake's Seafood restaurant (formerly Hero's).
Gilliam has applied for a permit to shut down three blocks of Old Town from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. March 4, including Center Street from West to Main streets and Battle Street between Center and Church streets.
"Due to the disruption of traffic and business access in the Old Town area for up to 15 hours and the likelihood of excessive noise during the planned event, I am hereby denying your request for a street festival," Hughes wrote in a letter to Gilliam.
Police Chief John J. Skinner initially denied Gilliam's request for a permit last week, and Gilliam appealed to Hughes. In the letter, Hughes recommended that Gilliam hold the event indoors.
Hughes noted, however, that Willis' survey results weren't available when he made his decision.
He said the City Council will hold a special public hearing at 7 p.m. Monday to consider Gilliam's latest appeal.
"I believe our chances are very good," Gilliam said, adding that he wants to sit down with council members before the hearing to present his case.
Willis said that he will attend the hearing to support Gilliam.
Willis said that of the 41 survey ballots collected, 31 support the outdoor Mardi Gras festivities, 5 oppose them and 5 offered no opinion.
Willis said that he thinks the survey is a valid sample of where Old Town shopkeepers stand, and that he doesn't expect to see any significant change in the outcome as the remaining 25 or so ballots trickle in.
Willis offered advice for those who don't think the event is suitable for their children: Stay home.
"We don't want to see other people imposing their judgment on what's suitable or not suitable for others," Willis said. "The controversy isn't coming as much from the people of Old Town as it comes from the people who want to make moral judgments, in some cases from people who don't even live in Manassas."
Denny Nissley, leader of Christ in Action, a nonprofit based in Manassas, said he knows of at least two dozen churches that oppose the event, including Manassas Baptist Church on Sudley Road.
"The bottom line is they want people to come to Manassas from all over the area, they want them to come and drink, but they don't want the outsiders to come and think," Nissley said. "And what do the drunk people do when they're done? They drive through the county where my kids and my church members live."
Nissley said he thinks this is a county-wide issue that is based in Manassas.
"There's a lot more at stake here than just Old Town businesses," Nissley said.
Carl Joseph, owner of Philadelphia Tavern, said he has never personally seen anything get out of hand at any of the four previous Mardi Gras celebrations in Old Town.
"We thought it was extremely well done the first two years," Joseph said. "People were there with their families, and it was very family-oriented."
Joseph, who plans to set up a booth at the event, said there is more trouble at some local taverns on any given night than there was at past Mardi Gras festivals.
Ultimately, Willis said, his organization hopes the city can work with Gilliam and others to come to an agreement over the street closure permit.
"We think this is workable," he said. "We don't think it would be an unduly burdensome event on the city."