Friday, June 2, 2023

Newburgh Illuminated Postponed Indefinitely After Battles with City Hall

Volunteer organizers of Newburgh Illuminated pulled the plug on the major festival scheduled for June 3, 2023, thanks to ongoing battles with City of Newburgh officials about the logistics of the annual event.

Newburgh Illuminated organizers issued a statement that the event will be postponed, “But we’re not turning the lights out.” They reiterated their wishes to still make the event happen. City Hall then issued a press release containing its own narrative, claiming that the event has been “unilaterally cancelled.” The city’s narrative comes after the City Council declared last year it will begin to “control the narrative” to the public. See documentation below.

Newburgh Illuminated was first created from the vision of late Mayor Judy Kennedy to bring light to all the local businesses and activities offered in the City of Newburgh. Last year, the festival drew an estimated 60,000 customers. This year would have marked its tenth anniversary and was estimated to bring 100,000 customers into the city.

“One of the biggest event in the city that attracted thousands of people from all over the place which helped the local community has been canceled because the circus made things difficult,” a social media user wrote to Independence for Newburgh.

Another user pointed out the irony that city officials want to stop the festival early, but “no time limit for the zombies roaming the streets and other nonsense.”

On Monday, city residents and business owners bombarded the City Council meeting to slam city officials for their resistance in approving the permit (story here). Newburgh Illuminated volunteers stated they want the event to be the same as last year. They argued that they submitted permit applications three times, but city officials resisted and wanted to change this year’s logistics.

City Council members, including the mayor, are all elected officials who work part-time. The City Manager and department heads are full-time employees who are appointed by the City Council.

Amid major public outcry, city officials have issued contradictory statements. City Council members stated they have no say in the permit process or the terms of the event, although they determined on Monday to change the end time.

City Manager Todd Venning and Corporation Counsel Michelle Kelson explained during Monday night’s meeting that the Council previously set a curfew of 7:00pm for events on Sundays. Venning and Kelson stated this is a “separate and distinct determination” from Newburgh Illuminated.

Regarding events on any other day of the week, such as Newburgh Illuminate’s formerly planned Saturday night event, Kelson said, “We will continue to make time, place, and manner recommendations and restrictions. We will try to apply them even-handedly. But what happened tonight is an example of how things become separate and unequal.”

A press release issued from City Hall today said the Council agreed to extend the time of the festival until 7:30pm. However, City Council members said during Monday night’s meeting that they have no role in the permit application process, which includes start and end times.

Councilman Anthony Grice posted to social media today and stated, “Council does not, and in my opinion should never, get involved in the event process.” Later in the same post, Grice noted, “A compromise was made for 8:30 by ALL of council, not some.”

During Monday night’s meeting, City Council members stated they will discuss compromising on the end time of the festival. Last year, the event ended at 10:00pm. This year, city leaders are mandating that the event must end at 7:00pm.

“The message sent by City of Newburgh officials is that it’s not safe to be in the City after dark,” a social media user posted to Independence for Newburgh.

In addition to the end time being changed, the proposed location would have been changed from last year. Council members discussed during the meeting that construction will be underway and emergency vehicles will need a way out from the Public Safety Building to respond to emergencies. “No malice,” Grice stated.

Rich Farcasse has invested tens of thousands of dollars and volunteered hundreds of hours of time in making the annual event successful. He asked the Council, “How are you going to put 100,000 people in a situation that’s shrunk down one-third of the size?”

Newburgh Illuminated announced on Wednesday that this year’s festival has been postponed. “Due to difficulties reaching an agreement with the City, Newburgh Illuminated Festival 2023 is being postponed,” the statement read. “Leaving so many small businesses, many of them new to the community, outside of the festival bounds and inaccessible to attendees completely goes against the mission of Newburgh Illuminated.”

Event organizers emphasized, “To be clear: We want to make this happen! Our hope is that in the very near future, we can work with all necessary parties to foster improved collaboration.”

However, City Hall issued its own narrative today and claimed that Newburgh Illuminated organizers have “unilaterally cancelled” the festival.

Earlier this week, Newburgh Illuminated organizers met with Town of Newburgh officials who were reportedly very interested in hosting the large-scale event. Grice told event organizers that they are welcome to move the festival out of the city.

Yesterday, the community group Prosperity Newburgh issued a “heartfelt thank you” to The Newburgh News for reporting on the issue. They posted to their Facebook page, “Now that you’ve shone a light on what’s really going on here, the cockroaches are starting to scatter.”

Newburgh Illuminated reported that the festival is being “postponed.”
Newburgh City Hall’s press release claiming Newburgh Illuminated has “unilaterally cancelled” the festival.

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