The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Oktoberfest survey ruffles feathers in downtown Fredericksburg
BY ROBYN SIDERSKY
Fredericksburg City Manager Beverly Cameron sent a survey Thursday to 185 downtown businesses about Capital Ale House’s annual Oktoberfest.
“I’m trying to just gauge from downtown business owners and operators whether they support the event as it has been held in the past, then to measure their opinion about a couple of proposed changes that had been offered by the applicant, Capital Ale House,” Cameron said in an interview.
The survey comes after controversy flared up recently over the street festival that drew about 9,000 people to downtown Fredericksburg last September.
In April, downtown merchants presented Cameron and the City Council with a petition signed by some 90 business owners opposed to the event.
Cameron said while that is valid feedback, he wants to try to explore the situation in more detail.
The survey includes yes-and-no questions; questions that ask participants to rank their level of agreement; and open-ended questions.
One of the ideas Cameron proposed is adding a $2 or $3 admission fee to the event and donating most of the proceeds—in the range of $18,000 to $20,000—to the Fredericksburg Main Street program.
The program has not gotten off the ground yet, but $30,000 is allocated in the upcoming city budget.
The city is considering joining the Virginia Main Street Program, which tries to create and promote thriving central business districts.
Local Main Street program organizers aren’t happy with the city manager’s proposal in the survey.
Paul Cymrot, owner of Riverby Books, and Scarlett Pons, owner of PONSHOP, said they weren’t consulted before the survey was sent out. They said they think it misrepresents what the program is all about.
Cymrot sent a letter to Cameron telling him so, and asked him to send his message to all of the survey participants.
Downtown merchants have complain that Oktoberfest hurts business because it makes their stores less accessible.
Barricades are set up to keep festival-goers separate from other people who are downtown. The barriers are required by Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control laws.
In the survey, Cameron wrote that Capital Ale House proposes to modify the barricade system so that shoppers and other visitors can cross Caroline Street at the George Street intersections.
Also, several downtown merchants suggested moving the event to Riverfront Park, but in the survey, Cameron explains why that isn’t feasible.
“Capital Ale House cannot sponsor and conduct the event there due to limitations imposed by the Virginia ABC rules and regulations,” he wrote in the survey.
The list of businesses the survey was sent to was developed by the city Department of Economic Development and Tourism.
Cameron said he’s already received several responses, but has not studied them yet. He has asked that the survey be returned to his office by June 7.
Cameron said he understands the controversial nature of the situation.
“I’m trying to get some feedback and now the survey instrument itself becomes a point of debate and discussion,” he said.
Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413