Organizers of the annual Chili Cook-Off, which was to be held Saturday along Pennsylvania Avenue NW, say opposition from the downtown business and residential community has forced them to look for a new location to host the major fundraiser.
And it might not be in the District.
Preston Englert Jr., president of the National Kidney Foundation of the National Capital Area, said the organization postponed this weekend's festivities after it failed to reach a compromise with residents and business owners. The community had complained about noise, litter and loitering by spectators outside the charitable event.
"We're disappointed," Englert said. "This would have been the 25th anniversary."
Englert said he hopes to reschedule the cook-off later this year and is considering locations in and outside the District, where it has been held for the last 20 years.
"There's a lot of options still available," he said. "It's not clear where it could be held. We're looking at numerous sites."
The cook-off, which raised more than $400,000 last year, has been held along Pennsylvania Avenue between 10th and 14th streets NW since it moved from Georgetown in 1997. The money is used to help further education and research about kidney disease, which is more prevalent in this area than in any other part of the country, organizers said.
The cook-off attracts about 30,000 people who pay up to $30 a ticket to attend.
In February, residents complained that the event attracts an obnoxious crowd, including some who get drunk, undress and urinate in the streets. Those who do not pay to attend the event bring coolers and congregate along the sidewalks, where they listen to bands performing rock music so loud that one business owner said the windows of his restaurant were shaking.
The crowds attending the cook-off, which primarily features cooks competing to have the spiciest and tastiest fare, have been more disruptive than those at other downtown festivals, residents said.
Organizers of the event tried unsuccessfully to address the complaints, which Englert said he had been unaware of in the past.
The foundation offered to hire extra police officers to increase safety and to station event staffers at business entrances to prevent loitering, according to Englert. The organization also was willing to pay for additional crews to pick up trash because residents said that after the city cleaned up, debris was still on the streets.
But neighborhood leaders and business groups said the proposed solutions were unacceptable, Englert said. The foundation decided not to pursue the street closing permits and special events license, fearing that it would not be able to get the signatures of 90 percent of the affected businesses and residences as required.
David Wizenberg, a co-owner of the TenPenh Restaurant, said the community was skeptical of the foundation's compromise.
"In past events, the managers would say things that just didn't happen," Wizenberg said. "They made some promises they didn't keep."
Barbara Childs-Pair, the interim director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, said the organizers informed the city that they were looking for a later date and another location in the District. One of the places suggested by the residents was RFK stadium, but Childs-Pair said the foundation hasn't disclosed the other locations under consideration.
Childs-Pair said that the District doesn't want to lose the chili cook-off, but that the Mayor's Special Events Task Force Group has to balance the concerns of the citizens with the needs of the charitable organization.
"We need to ensure that our residents and businesses have signed off on the street closures because the events are happening in their communities," she said. "We need to be sure that we minimize any inconveniences."
The foundation has insisted in the past that it would resolve the problems but has failed to do it, the community activists said.
Charles Docter, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative who has lived at the Residences at Marketplace for 13 years, said his constituents do not harbor ill feelings toward the foundation's fundraiser.
"They had too rowdy of a crowd breeding a lot of problems," Docter said. "Drinking was very heavy. Pennsylvania Avenue is the nation's Main Street, and it deserves responsible conduct to use it."
Docter, a vocal proponent of moving the cook-off, said that downtown Washington has attracted more residents over the years and that large festivals tend to create annoying problems.
"Everybody's delighted that we're not going to have that problem," Docter said of the postponement. "This is one festival that went too far."