Some city officials worry that construction under way on Dunwoody Village Parkway will create some ugly traffic jams when the Dunwoody Arts Festival opens in May.
“I feel we’re heading for a train wreck, a tremendous train wreck,” City Councilman Terry Nall said during the council’s March 10 meeting. “This is going to be horrible.”
At the same time, merchants in the area complain that closing streets to accommodate the for-profit festival costs them business on what typically is a high-traffic weekend.
The festival, reaching its fifth year in 2014, and held annually on Mother’s Day weekend, is expected to draw 60,000 to 70,000 people to view artists booths set up in the village area. A portion of Chamblee Dunwoody Road closes for the festival, and Dunwoody Village Parkway has been used to ferry traffic from Mount Vernon Road to Roberts Road and to festival parking areas.
A survey of businesses by the Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce this year found that 17 of the 23 businesses in the area who responded said the festival shows a negative impact, according to the city. Two businesses reported they closed during the weekend because of the festival.
“The arts festival, we know, is a citizen success,” City Councilman Denny Shortal said March 10. “The downside is the businesses. … Mother’s Day is a big day for restaurants.”
Other council members agreed. “I’m hoping you work with these businesses to do anything you can to make sure their business is viable on one of their most important weekends,” City Councilman John Heneghan told festival organizers.
But Councilman Doug Thompson disagreed, saying he “would love to have 60,000 to 70,000 people in front of my business on a weekend.”
“I think we’re being a bunch of whiners here,” Thompson said. “We need to be looking for ways to have more of these events, not trying to run off the ones we’ve got.”
This year, city officials foresee additional complications during the festival because of the road construction. The city is rebuilding Dunwoody Village Parkway to narrow it from four to two lanes, and is adding sidewalks, bike lanes, trees and other landscaping. No work will be performed during the arts festival, which is scheduled for May 10 and 11, city officials said.
City Manager Warren Hutmacher wrote in a memorandum that city officials had discussed finding a new location for the festival due to its effects on permanent businesses and the construction. “Staff suggested consideration of alternate sites such as Perimeter Center Place (abuts Target and the Terraces) and Brook Run Park,” Hutmacher wrote.
But festival organizers did not want to move, Hutmacher wrote. “Specifically, they felt the festival was successful in its current location with artists and visitors due to its high visibility location on Chamblee Dunwoody Road and in Dunwoody Village,” he wrote.
“They felt that the Perimeter Center location was too ‘hidden’ from traffic and that the location was ‘out of the way.’ … The group didn’t discuss Brook Run in much detail, but a few objections were mentioned including the general feel of a street festival vs. a park festival, the availability of onsite parking and negative feedback from the artisans.”
Frances Schube of Splash Festivals told council members that her group wants to avoid disrupting business for local merchants, but that with only two months remaining before the festival, there was little they could change.
She said her group tries to work with businesses in the area to help them increase their traffic during the festival.
“We will keep trying. We will keep working with these businesses. We will do better,” Schube said.
Several council members suggested the festival be moved to a different weekend. “I would strongly urge you to move to another date,” Nall said. “What is a successful weekend for you is a successful weekend for others.”
But Schube said holding the festival on Mother’s Day gave people a place to go out with their families other than church and lunch. “This allows people to come and enjoy our city,” she said.