News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

January 26, 2014

EDITORIAL: Don’t silence the music

City should ensure Bluesfest remains at 7th and Wabash

TERRE HAUTE — For 13 years, looking toward its 14th, the Blues at the Crossroads Festival has brought thousands of visitors to Seventh and Wabash each September for good music and good times.

The festival, which celebrates the quintessential American musical art form of the blues (and, OK, the downing of a burger and a few brews), has grown from a local curiosity to a regional, if not national, event that is highly anticipated.

It is a success. It brings money to the community’s hotels, restaurants, bars and shops. It builds our reputation. It strengthens a feeling of community. It is good for our city’s résumé. It can’t help but impress visitors and locals that we actually might just have something unique and cool right here in River City.

But, for the second time in three years, the festival’s ability to use city streets and sidewalks for the event is back in a contentious situation before city government — specifically the Board of Public Works, which is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. today in the Board of Works conference room, first floor, City Hall. The topic is likely to be on the agenda for today’s meeting.

Attorney Mike Ellis, who owns some businesses and vacant buildings on Wabash Avenue, has again brought the matter to the board and is now threatening legal action unless matters he objects to are remedied.

As our reporter Arthur Foulkes told you in Friday’s Tribune-Star, Ellis contends in an eight-page letter to the Board of Works, dated Oct. 23, 2013, that the festival failed to keep sidewalks on Wabash accessible so that potential customers could reach his businesses, which include a retail shop just outside the west edge of the area closed for the festival. He contends the festival has had the city’s permission to close the streets in the festival area — but not the sidewalks, or at least not explicit permission.

The rub is that those entering an area fenced off for the festival must pay admission for the ability to partake. Ellis contends that the requirement to pay has included the sidewalks.

We can’t say how correct he is, but, if the festival organizers, their volunteers or their security have in the past required festival tickets from those simply visiting businesses, that practice needs to stop at next September’s event — as the Board of Works instructed in 2012 when this same issue arose.

If that has been the case, it is up to the festival organizers to develop a surefire method — including training for its volunteers and instructions to its security — to see that these and other requirements are met.

These differences have answers, obvious ones. It is up to city officials, festival leaders and Ellis and others who may object to actions or inactions to work through these differences in ways that maintain the Blues at the Crossroads for many more years at Seventh and Wabash.

And the suggestion — which Ellis makes and others may second — that the festival be moved away from Seventh and Wabash needs to be rejected.

Ellis’ complaints notwithstanding, the festival can be — and has been — good for businesses, both to those in the festival’s closed-streets area and those outside it. The city needs this festival in the middle of town, in the streets, amid hotels, near our major university, close to downtown bars and restaurants.

Neither can the blues festival become a free event, which would remove the sidewalk access issue. This festival must charge admission to book the kind of talent it brings to town — talent that does not play for free. So the blues festival must charge an extremely modest fee — or fail to exist.

And it need not fail to exist.

These are the issues the Board of Works will need to resolve, and that may be accomplished at today’s meeting, undeterred, we’re sure, by the threat of a lawsuit. We are confident the board can act, as it has before, in the best interests of downtown businesses and the public — and in the interest of keeping alive a great festival that deserves to crank out the blues for many more years at the Crossroads of America.

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