Residents voice concern over 13Fest

Athens City Council meeting Tuesday September 8, 2015 Athens, Ohio
Athens City Council meeting
Tuesday September 8, 2015
Athens, Ohio

Despite 13Fest’s location falling outside of the city’s jurisdiction, Athens City Council saw a full house at its Monday night meeting of residents eager to put down the fest.

Residents flocked to the Athens City Building, 8 E. Washington St., Monday night to call the 13th edition of the out-of-town fest — which stopped traffic on U.S. Route 56 and stranded thousands of festers to trek 3 miles back to Ohio University’s campus — an “abomination.”

“I had no idea about the fest out on 56,” Alice Retaff, an Athens resident, said. “I was appalled. It was vile. It was disrespectful.”

That was the general consensus between residents in attendance Monday evening.

“What I saw on Saturday … Oh my,” Retaff said. “The trucks, the buses, the cars, all loaded way beyond capacity. And the foot traffic was just incredible.”

Athens City Auditor Kathy Hecht said the disruption went beyond the crowds of inebriated festers seeking a way home. She said she had seen partygoers vandalizing mailboxes and ripping flags out of the ground as they made their way down Route 56 Saturday night after Number Fest.

“That just shows how disrespectful they are,” Hecht said.

Maxine Bantone, Athens resident, said the damage expanded beyond the county roads and to her Union Street business.

“The hundreds of people waiting in line … were a constant disruption,” Bantone said.

She added that festers waiting for the bus covered the street, causing some traffic — specifically motorcycles — to drive down the sidewalks amid the crowd.

“It was abominable,” Bantone said. “Something does need to be done … to get this under control.”

Most residents called for the city to partner with the Athens County Commissioners and the Athens County Sheriff’s Office and form a commission to help regulate the fest.

“A commission needs to be formed immediately,” Alan Swank, an Athens resident, said.

Swank said the commission should also expand to include students.

When it came down to it, residents were ready to point fingers at two entities: event organizer Dominic Petrozzi and the City of Athens.

“How could that city … do this to me?” Retaff said. “I just felt that you guys have really, really let us down.”

Criticism of city officials ranged from the city’s lack of code to regulate Number Fest and the police’s inability to respond to some calls.

Jaymie Strecker, an Athens resident, said she attempted to contact authorities about an unlicensed cab driver over the weekend, and was told by the police that they were too busy.

“This is just more than our local law enforcement can handle,” Strecker said.

Strecker also expressed concern about the venue chosen by event organizers, which is located on State Route 56.

“There is no way to safely hold an event like this in a location like that,” Strecker said. “The more that I learn about Numbers Fest, the more that I’m convinced there’s no way to hold this event … without threatening the safety in and outside of the event.”

Though residents called for action, council members stressed that because the fest falls outside of their jurisdiction, there wasn’t much they could do.

“Everybody tonight should talk to the county commissioners and the county sheriff,” Councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-4th Ward, said. “The sheriff’s office has more control over the venue and such.”

Fahl said council was doing its “due diligence,” though it comes down to county authorities and event organizers to take the helm on amending Number Fest to fit Athens residents’ wishes.

“People who do these sort of things have obligations,” Fahl said. “The guy makes a lot of money, and no one else profits.”

Council members had no easy answer for residents in attendance.

“The city administration is working with the community … to look at some of the issues that were raised,” Council President Chris Knisely said.

At its next meeting, council will hold a “committee of the whole” to discuss the issue. Knisely said county officials might be present.

“I really don’t think the fests are going away but they have to go away in its current form,” Swank said.



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