By most accounts, this year’s Carnegie Carnival was a roaring success.
The annual Mardi Gras celebration, held the Saturday before Fat Tuesday, brought thousands of people to revel in downtown Decatur on Feb. 22. It also raised $253,000 for the Carnegie Visual Arts Center and other local nonprofit organizations. Organizers, especially those who helped start it in 2012, should be proud.
As it does every year, the Carnegie Carnival involved music, food, dancing and parades — lots and lots of parades of people, pets and floats.
There’s the Carnival Frolic 13.1-mile race, a half-marathon that goes through Decatur’s historic districts, along the Tennessee River and to Point Mallard before returning to downtown. There is the Carnival Prince and Princess Parade, which benefits CASA of North Alabama. There is the Carnival Canines on Parade, in which participants and their dogs, usually in costume, march through downtown. And, lastly, there is the main parade, which brings the day’s festivities to a close with a gaudy display of floats and costumes — all in the finest traditions of Mardi Gras.
Herein lies the problem.
Residents at City Center Village, formerly Amberley Suites hotel, a Bank Street retirement home, sent a petition to Mayor Tab Bowling last week saying barricades during the Mardi Gras events left them trapped in their homes.
This year parade organizers, to accommodate a desire by police to keep Gordon Drive open to traffic, reversed the parade’s traditional route. Instead of traveling south-to-north, it traveled north-to-south, with a staging area on Bank Street, near City Center Village.
“We tried to leave at 6:30 a.m., and we couldn’t get out,” said Maria Pennefather, the main force behind the petition signed by 50 City Center Village residents.
Pennefather said she heard several complaints during the day, including one resident having a hard time getting out to go to the hospital, another unable to leave to visit friends and one resident unable to receive friends.
Pennefather said she is worried that an emergency will occur and an ambulance won’t be able to get in or out of the property.
Bowling is working with City Center Village residents, and he says the solution may be as simple as fixing a sinkhole at Lafayette Street that would give residents an exit to Railroad and Wilson streets when the Bank Street/Church Street entrance is obstructed.
Decatur police may request all future parades use a similar route to this year’s Carnegie Carnival to keep the Gordon Drive overpass clear for emergency vehicles needing to travel above railroad tracks. For their part, Carnegie Carnival officials plan to buy more barricades for next year, which residents worry could make the situation worse.
A problem caused by having lots of people downtown is a good one to have, however, if it’s dealt with properly. It’s good that Decatur has events that draw people downtown by the thousands. It’s also good that more people are living downtown. But if city leaders hope to draw more people downtown to live — such as in loft apartments on Second Avenue — downtown events will have to consider the needs of permanent residents.
These are problems that cannot be solved simply by adding downtown parking. A parking garage is no use if drivers cannot get to it.
Limiting the inconvenience to downtown residents on parade days may mean rethinking which streets to barricade and when, or perhaps rotating when barricades are up so they aren’t all up simultaneously.
With proper consideration, there is no reason downtown events and downtown residents cannot coexist.