The 2018 Festival of the Bells will not be held in uptown Hillsboro, it was announced Tuesday morning by the Festival of the Bells Committee.
A prepared statement released on behalf of the group by committee president Rick Williams said the festival will not be held in the center of town due to safety concerns and feasibility issues, following the Oct. 10 Hillsboro City Council meeting when Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie said the city would not issue a permit for the festival to be held in the area.
As reported by The Times-Gazette, following a contentious joint meeting of city council’s Community Enhancement Committee and Street and Safety Committee on Oct. 17, council members met with McKenzie to arrange a “tentative compromise” for the festival by moving it one block north on High Street to improve traffic flow on Main Street (U.S. Route 50).
“Due to serious concerns regarding the safety of the public and the feasibility of the change, the Festival of the Bells Committee feels it is in the best interest of all to respectfully decline the location change proposed by the city administration,” the statement said. “Therefore, the 2018 Festival of the Bells will not be held in downtown Hillsboro.”
As he has said in the past, Williams told The Times-Gazette there’s still a chance the festival may not happen at all, but no decision has been made to that effect.
“It all came down to safety,” Williams said. “The festival has always looked at safety first, and the proposal was just not safe enough.”
According to Williams, the committee agreed that having U.S. 50 open in both directions during the festival poses too much of a safety hazard after seeking advice from local law enforcement. Williams said the committee talked with retired and current law enforcement professionals, but did not consult with the Hillsboro Police Department.
As for alternative locations, Williams said organizers are unsure.
“Right now, I guess it just is what it is,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen… The truck has stopped.”
Council member Justin Harsha, who serves as both the chairman of council’s Street and Safety Committee and as vice president of the independent festival committee, declined to comment on the meeting other than to say he abstained from voting.
Williams said the committee voted 9-0 in favor of the decision, with three abstentions.
McKenzie said he had received the same notice sent to The Times-Gazette, but had heard nothing further on the matter Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” McKenzie said. “Much like their failure to communicate with the city from the beginning, I have not heard anything from the festival committee on any decision they’ve made other than an un-signed letter that was slid under our window at the city offices. I do not know who delivered it as our receptionist was away from the desk and the bell was not rung.”
McKenzie said he had reached out to Williams and Harsha for clarification..
Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings said he was surprised to hear the news.
“In my talks with the safety and service director, it sounded like they had reached a realistic adjustment to be uptown,” Hastings said. “It actually sounded pretty minor to me. But I’m sure in the end the festival is going to vote for whatever is best for the festival, so they must have found an alternative site that they liked better.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.