The 2018 Festival of the Bells will be held at the Hillsboro campus of Southern State Community College in July next year, organizers announced Monday.
SSCC president Dr. Kevin Boys and Festival of the Bells Committee President Rick Williams said during a brief press conference Monday afternoon in Boys’ office that the festival will be held at the college, following weeks of discussion after Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie said in October that the city would not issue a permit for the festival to be held in the uptown area as it has in the past, citing safety concerns and business complaints.
Williams said the idea of moving the festival to SSCC was discussed by the festival committee last week and finalized Sunday night.
Boys said the campus boasts six acres of paved parking lot, a large grassy field and the Patriot Center, which may be used for a basketball event in conjunction with the festival.
Boys said the extension of Hobart Drive and new sidewalks installed along U.S. Route 62 spanning from SSCC to the downtown area will make the event more feasible.
“I just saw it as a great opportunity to bring people to our campus,” Boys said, adding that he’s happy to preserve the festival’s history and allow for future expansion.
Williams said the festival committee will work alongside SSCC staff to plan the particulars in coming months.
“Still a lot of preliminary things of course,” Williams said. “We’ve got some things I can’t talk about. If we pull this one off it’ll be huge, and I think we’ll pull it off.”
A statement from the committee released Monday said, “The committee is pleased that Southern State Community College recognizes the value of the annual Festival of the Bells and has reached out to offer the use of their facility for the festival. They share the committee’s philosophy that festivals such as ours provide a sense of community pride and a source of traditions for the citizens and guests each year. With the continuation of the festival, traditions may continue, albeit perhaps in a new way. We’re excited to get started on this new opportunity to showcase the special qualities that makes Hillsboro who we are. We believe our partnership with Southern State Community College will lead to a positive outcome for everyone.”
Williams and Justin Harsha, a city council member and vice president of the festival committee, said the space will allow for a larger festival, since the area where it’s normally held in the center of town is roughly three and a half acres, while the SSCC campus has six acres in the parking lot alone.
Harsha said moving the festival a block north on North High Street in town — an arrangement discussed by Harsha, McKenzie and Hillsboro City Council member Dick Donley last month — would have put the festival in too small of an area.
“Mel was very accommodating,” Harsha said, “but the shift was going to make it such a small area… Basically, it was going to be a condensed festival.”
In a prepared statement, McKenzie thanked the college, Williams and Harsha for their efforts, and said the new location “will prove highly beneficial for the City of Hillsboro.”
“This location alleviates the safety concerns that were paramount to the initial need for relocation while simultaneously providing opportunity for growth and expansion for the festival itself,” McKenzie said. “Additionally, the new location offers potential for the development of an excellent, sustained partnership between the festival committee, the City of Hillsboro and Southern State Community College, one of the area’s largest employers.”
Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings also said he’s also pleased with the change.
“It sounds to me like a win-win deal,” he said. “Tons of room for parking, vendors and festival activities.”
Williams said the Hillsboro Police Department will provide security for the event.
“Everybody thinks this is a win-win for everybody,” Williams said. “We just thank Southern State for coming out and saying ‘Let’s try it.’”
The festival will be held July 5-7, 2018.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.