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Carnival should remain on Washington, city officials say

Alexander Sinn • Jan 10, 2019 at 10:00 AM

The Coast Guard Festival carnival’s annual late-summer takeover of downtown Grand Haven is not likely to change, as city officials say alternative locations raise more challenges than benefits.

The Grand Haven City Council on Monday discussed the carnival’s footprint on Washington Avenue and considered studying the potential for placing it somewhere else. Council members agreed there is no better place to put the carnival in 2019. 

Coast Guard Festival Director Mike Smith said in a memo to the City Council that Harbor Island, Columbus Avenue and Harbor Drive were explored as potential locations. The Grand Haven Department of Public Safety concluded that moving the carnival would create problems for traffic control, side street congestion and other safety issues, Smith said.

It was determined that Harbor Island would not support the weight of the carnival rides, even with turf or poured concrete.

Smith said he proposed moving the carnival a street over to Columbus Avenue, but multiple property owners were opposed to the idea. Other locations were explored, he said, but were eliminated for issues related to height restrictions, fire access, parking and traffic flow.

The downtown is the ideal location, according to Smith, because people of all ages can park elsewhere and arrive on foot to visit vendors, the carnival and ships. 

At one time, the carnival was located on Harbor Drive. But with the median separating lanes and other developments, council members said it would be a challenging locale in 2019 and beyond.

The debate over the festival’s footprint is not new, and Councilman Michael Fritz said the council has settled the issue in the past.

“We’ve had this discussion,” he said. “It comes up at the same location because of too many obstacles and too many things to move it. If you want to put a death to the Coast Guard Festival, keep doing what you’re doing.”

Mayor Geri McCaleb said it’s necessary for the council to discuss moving the carnival to ensure stakeholders that the city is open to other possibilities. Some downtown restaurants have complained that food vendors hurt their business during peak summer months. 

“Everybody’s got their issues,” McCaleb said. “It’s good to have the conversation periodically to remind us why it is where it is — because it works.”

Councilman Bob Monetza said stakeholders’ concerns can be addressed by altering the footprint and composition of the carnival within Washington Avenue. 

“I firmly believe that everything can be improved,” he said. “If you’re going to have (a carnival), it’s going to be right where it is.”

City Manager Pat McGinnis said public safety officials are exploring security strategies in the coming months.

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