Only two city councilors voted against the permit request from Tim Zinn of Let it Shine. The majority said they are “cautiously optimistic” the smaller festival will be a success.
City Councilor David Richards, who voted against it, said his main opposition is that, despite promising to be a smaller event only taking place in and around Central Square, it will still be called the Keene Pumpkin Festival.
“I think calling it the Keene Pumpkin Festival is a dangerous idea. I don’t think social media will garner the difference,” Richards said. “We risk what happened a couple of years ago. I think changing the name is not too much to ask.”
In 2014, during the 24th annual Keene Pumpkin Festival, riots broke out in a neighborhood outside of the festival footprint, which was downtown on Main Street. Fueled by social media, the city over festival weekend had become a party destination for college students from across New England.
Thursday night Richards defended the councilor’s decision in 2015 to deny a permit to Let It Shine for the 25th annual Keene Pumpkin Festival.
“We had people hospitalized last time,” Richards said, referring to the riots.
Zinn’s proposal is to focus on the children’s activities, have no vendors, a smaller foot-print and only have the school children of SAU 29 involved in carving pumpkins that Sunday afternoon in Central Square. The festival is planned to end at 7 p.m.
Many city councilors echoed Richards’ concerns about the festival’s name, but lamented that since it is not a city event it isn’t their call. No city money will be used to pay for city services required of the event. Zinn has been given an estimate of $14,000 to cover the police, fire and public works services for festival day.
“I would love to see it called the Jack-O-Lantern Jamboree or something like that,” councilor Philip Jones said.
But he added it wasn’t the festival’s fault the riots broke out.
“It was the fault of the whole New England student network that it became the drunken, violent Woodstock of Keene,” Greenwald said.
City Councilor Stephen Hooper said he was a photographer for the Keene Sentinel back when the festival began. The festival started as a community event, he said, and would hold pumpkin carving events at area schools, which he remembers photographing for the newspaper.
“I remember those early days, when the template was small and it was more of a community event. It wasn’t an international event,” Hooper said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the smiling faces on the children again.”
Meghan Pierce can be reached at email@example.com, follow her on twitter @monadnockbeat.