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January 27, 2014

Blues festival to stay at Crossroads

Adjustments made after talk of injunction

TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute’s annual Blues at the Crossroads downtown music festival got strong support Monday from the city’s Board of Public Works and Safety.

The five-person board, appointed by the mayor, unanimously approved closing streets and sidewalks downtown for the Sept. 12 and 13 event.

Mike Ellis, a downtown business owner and Terre Haute attorney, had threatened to seek an injunction against the festival if the board failed to make changes in the manner in which the festival takes place. He asserted that the festival has made access to one or more of his Wabash Avenue businesses difficult in the past.

In response, the board approved the festival street and sidewalk closures but changed the event’s western perimeter to avoid any possible blocking of Ellis’ businesses. In the past, the western perimeter extended about 20 feet west of the Vigo County School Corp. parking lot. This year, the perimeter will stop at the western edge of that parking lot, leaving a sidewalk open along the eastern edge of the Center City building, which Ellis owns.

The board also instructed festival organizers to avoid parking trucks on Wabash that might block an Ellis business.

“It’s a good resolution,” said Ellis, who was reached shortly after the board meeting. Ellis did not attend the board meeting because of being in court, he said.

“Obviously, it was never our intent to shut them down,” Ellis said. “I wish them a successful event.” The idea was for the festival to be good for everyone, he said.

Connie Wrin, the festival’s founder and organizer, said the board’s approval gives her the green light to start booking acts for the festival.

“I’ve had a lot of people on hold,” Wrin said after the board meeting in City Hall. Bands like to start booking engagements early, and she has had four “on hold,” she said.

“This is a weight off my shoulders,” Wrin said smiling. “I’m happy we have the support of the city. It’s awesome.”

Board of Works President Bob Murray, shortly before the board members voted, said the festival brings a lot of people downtown who normally otherwise would not go there. It provides good exposure to downtown businesses, he said.

“This is a good way for people to find out what is going on downtown,” he said.

Jon Stinson, vice president of the board, agreed, stating the festival is “very well done.”

About a dozen people attended the board meeting in apparent support of the festival, although no one spoke on its behalf from the public, except for Wrin. She brought with her a letter to the board stating support for the event signed by representatives of businesses located inside the festival perimeter, including J. Gumbo’s, River Wools, Yogurt in Love, Boo’s Crossroads Cafe, Asian Market, Mic’s Pics, Chavas Mexican Grill, Modern Charm and others.

Wrin also provided the board with the written instructions provided to festival gate personnel. They are instructed to allow people to enter the festival grounds without charge if they are simply visiting a business within the festival perimeter but do not intend to stay for the music. Only people paying the gate entry fee will receive a wrist band entitling them to stay for the festival itself, the instructions state.

Charging an entry fee is the only way to make the festival work, Wrin told the board. The event costs about $120,000 to put on, she said.

One of Ellis’ concerns was the festival practice of charging of an admission fee to access public sidewalks inside the festival perimeter. His businesses are just outside the festival area.

To accommodate the festival, the Board of Works approved closing a portion of Wabash Avenue at Seventh Street. It also approved closing Seventh Street to the alleys south and north of Wabash. The alleys are to remain open to either the public or to emergency vehicles.

The streets and sidewalks will be closed for the festival starting at 1 p.m. Sept. 12 and will open again about 3 a.m. Sept. 14, Wrin told the board.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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