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Move of UFO Festival raises concerns

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During the City Council meeting on March 12, two local citizens raised concerns about the move of the UFO Festival to the new parking lot of the Roswell Convention & Civic Center, which is located just south of the DeBremond Stadium.

First to address the council was Juliana Halvorson on behalf of the UFO Festival committee. Halvorson voiced her gratitude over the support of the city.

“The partnership with the city is why the festival happens. We couldn’t do it without any city services, financial and everything you guys do for us,” she said.

Halvorson pointed out that when the UFO Festival committee members met originally with the city of Roswell in October 2019 and were asked to move the festival, they initially agreed as long as it would not be to Cielo Grande.

“We wanted to have them closer to downtown and we wanted to continue our partnership with the city,” she said.

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Halvorson said that the change shouldn’t have been agreed upon immediately, before talking to the downtown merchants. She said that the City Council had made their decision on moving the festival after a survey was sent by email to merchants.

“Two-hundred emails went out,” Halvorson said — confirming the exact number of responses with city manager Joe Neeb — “only 40 responded and 50% of them said that downtown events don’t help their business. After we talked to our merchants (downtown), you are aware that the UFO museum is ready to pull out of the event, as well, completely. We polled our own merchants and 99% of them want to keep the event downtown.”

According to an email March 13 from the city of Roswell’s public affairs director, Juanita Jennings, 232 emails were sent out with 40 merchants responding — 53.85% answered that downtown events did not help sales; 46.15% said that downtown events would help their sales, and to the question whether downtown foot traffic increases downtown business and/or sales volume, 42% said the UFO Festival did.

Halvorson pointed out that one of the biggest issues with the parking lot is that there would be no protection against the sun and that the committee is concerned downtown merchants will be harmed by the move. The only advantage would be that the set-up of the festival could happen earlier. The committee had another recent meeting with the city of Roswell, which included Neeb, Jennings and Deputy City Clerk Stephanie Garay.

“I think we came up with a plan how to get more merchants downtown,” Halvorson said about the meeting. “We don’t expect it to get moved this year. I am just making a point that it’s not good to be at the civic center because it is out of our district. We are trying to make it successful, we are trying to keep a positive attitude, but I don’t think the move is a good thing.”

Next to address the Roswell City Council about the UFO Festival move was Molly Boyles, owner of Once Again Consignment on Main Street and a volunteer with the UFO Festival committee.

“This is going to hurt like you can’t believe,” she said. “I have two weeks out of the year that are really good for my business — my business has been around for more than 15 years — the week right after Thanksgiving, Black Friday is not that big of a deal, but Small Business Saturday is fantastic and I have a great week that following week. And the UFO Festival week is a fabulous week for my business.

“When we have thousands of people walking the sidewalks and down the middle of Main Street, guess what? They pop into our businesses. They may or may not do that this year. It’s going to hurt. I am here as a business owner, not as a board member of MainStreet Roswell. As a business owner, I think this was a very poor decision. I hope that we can have a successful event this year, but that next year, it will be reconsidered and brought back downtown. We appreciate the city, we know they put in tons of money and tons of hours. It’s a huge event for our town, but we got to remember the little guys.”

After the Daily Record reached out for a response following the City Council meeting, Jennings wrote in an email that the festival always was a citywide event.

“What we have asked MainStreet is to move the vendors that directly compete with our downtown businesses as well as their information tent and some entertainment off Main Street to DeBremond Stadium. Due to the Fourth of July event coinciding with the Saturday of the festival, the city has increased its contribution to the event with increased entertainment.

“We see this change in location as an opportunity to work cohesively with MainStreet, Galacticon, (SciFi) Film Fest, and the planetarium to provide visitors a more enriching experience. Visitors will still go downtown because the UFO International Museum & Research Center is the attraction that draws so many of them here. Over the years, we have noticed the festival strayed further away from its intended purpose to celebrate the mystery of the Roswell Incident.

“The city is committed to supporting our local businesses. We are offering free public transportation and adding a bus stop near Second Street. We are having entertainment at Reischman Park, activities at the visitor center, signage for downtown shopping and we are working in collaboration with MainStreet for some additional opportunities for them to be at DeBremond Stadium and to promote downtown shopping,” Jennings wrote.

Not at the council meeting was Elaine Mayfield, organizer of Galacticon, as well as the UFO Alien Pet Contest during the UFO Festival. Asked if she was concerned that the pet contest would no longer be at the courthouse so the animals could be in the shade, she said via phone that they will monitor the temperatures and that they are prepared to bring out additional tents for shade.

Kerry Moore, co-owner of Chef Toddzilla’s Gourmet Burgers & Mobile Cuisine, whose food truck had been at the UFO Festival in previous years, gave her impression and concerns in regard to the move of the festival and use of the parking lot.

“I think the event should have stayed downtown,” Moore wrote. “I understand the issue is power. There is not enough power to run 20-plus food trucks, which is the problem we ran into in 2016 and 17. They had to bring in generators.

“I was part of the Health Expo last August and we set up some vendors at DeBremond. We had electrical issues. We were blowing the system with just two jumpers, sound system and a portable AC. Food trucks will draw way more power than that.”

Christina Stock may be contacted at 622-7710, ext. 309, or at vision@rdrnews.com.

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