Local News

Chapel Hill wants to scale back Halloween celebration

Posted September 22, 2008 6:11 a.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2008 10:49 p.m. EDT

— Chapel Hill's town officials recommended to town leaders Monday evening that they establish a multiyear plan to reduce the size of the downtown Halloween bash, which attracted more than 80,000 people last year.

In a recent Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce survey, nearly a third of downtown business owners said their businesses suffered from the annual party.

Each year, the crowd has grown, Chapel Hill's police chief and parks and recreation director says in a Sept. 22 memo to Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil. Measures, they say, need to be taken to prevent serious incidents before resources to control the crowd become substantially limited.

"It has gotten too big. It can get out of hand,” Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy said.

The town is concerned about binge drinking, crime and the growing presence of gang members at the event.

"This event has grown to the point where senior staff believes that it has become so large as to pose a significant risk to public safety," the memo said.

Last year's celebration, which is not a town-sponsored event, cost the town approximately $221,000 for security, cleanup, crowd control, emergency medical care and other expenses.

Police Chief Brian Curran and parks and recreation Director Ray Kisiah say it could take several years to return the event to a more manageable size. Developing a concrete action plan will require cooperation and discussion among community members, including the town, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the media.

Among the recommendations so far is to conduct an "aggressive public information campaign" ahead of the bash, limit alcohol sales for part of Halloween night and discontinue the use of the town's shuttle service.

An alternative would be to restrict access to the Franklin Street area by conducting checkpoints more than a mile away along major transportation corridors.

Chamber of Commerce Vice President Adam Klein says that from a business standpoint, scaling back is something that must be done.

"I think it's definitely critical," he said.

In the Chamber of Commerce poll, 28 percent of downtown businesses said Halloween night had a negative impact on business, compared with 24 percent who reported a boost in revenue.

Forty-five percent of businesses reported slight damage from the revelry, and another 19 percent reported major damage to their establishments.

Other downtown events got better reviews from business owners, with only 9 percent saying those events were bad for business.

Last year, more than 82,000 people attended the bash on Franklin Street, while 400 law enforcement officers set up a perimeter around the party area and arrested 13 people.

Orange County Emergency Medical Services responded to 31 calls and took eight people to the hospital. EMS workers said 21 of the calls were related to intoxication.

A year earlier, about 70,000 revelers had shown up on Franklin Street, and police arrested or cited 27 people.

"It's going to be hard to enforce," said Katie Bilzi, an employee at Franklin Street's Four Corners bar. "I mean, I don't know how they are going to get people not to come out. They are going to come, regardless."