Licensing for next year’s festival was denied for the final time

The rumors are true.

A license for the 2015 Pumpkin Festival was denied for the final time during a city council meeting Thursday, April 2.

The city of Keene’s Planning, Licensing and Development committees recommended to city council that a license not be granted after the proposal for a license and a new safety plan was unanimously voted down Wednesday, March 25.

“This is a recommendation we wish we didn’t have to make,” city councilman David R. Meader said at the meeting, “but as elected public officials, our paramount concern must be public safety and the welfare of the community.”

Meader said that both the police and fire chief mentioned repeatedly that “this type of event over taxes our local, regional and state resources.”

Meader also said that a safety plan for the festival will take “lots of time” and involve several different agencies, which will be costly to implement, he said.

“Even with unlimited resources the police chief says he’s uncertain he could staff a safety plan if one was developed,” Meader said.

The councilman spoke for the Planning, Licensing and Development Committee when he said the city needs more time “to investigate” how the city can better prepare for large events such as Pumpkin Fest.

When asked earlier about the idea of a new safety plan, the police department felt it was not right of them to speak of the subject when a plan had not been presented to them.

Meader added that he has hopes that the community can come back with a stronger festival in the years to come.

At last year’s Pumpkin Fest, hundreds of people gathered to party in the streets surrounding the festival, resulting in the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by police officials.

A number of students were taken into custody.

Members of the community spoke out at open forums held in the month’s following the festival.

Some citizens of Keene blamed Keene State College for the destruction of the city, others held Keene Police Department accountable for the lack of control of disturbing students.

Keene residents expressed their feelings about Pumpkin Fest one last time during the Planning, Licensing and Development meeting on March 25.

Alex Bates was the first to speak out at the meeting. He is a board member of Let it Shine and gave his perspective of Pumpkin Fest from a marketing standpoint. Bates also owns hotels in the Keene area.

Of the five surrounding hotels, Bates said Keene rakes in approximately $250,000 during the weekend of Pumpkin Fest.

He also stated that $22,000 of that money is room and sales tax that goes back to the state of New Hampshire.

Bates expressed his love for the festival and said the city would suffer without it.

Tim Smith / Photo Editor

Tim Smith / Photo Editor

He requested that the committee vote to recommend the festival staff prepare a safety and security plan for Let it Shine to review.

He also asked that the committee issue a community event license granted contingent on Let it Shine, so together “to create a security plan that would encompass the outside of the festival footprint.”

“Someone recently referred to these [Pumpkin Fest] events as cancerous,” Bates said, “and I assume that you wouldn’t give up on a patient with cancer, you would fight it.”

Bates said Let it Shine has not yet been presented with a new security plan for the festival, but hopes that one will be created in order for the organization to review the proposed costs.

Katie Rockwell is a lifelong Keene native that hasn’t missed a festival.

She began her statements by asking the committee if they had a plan for the nonprofits that would “lose out” if Pumpkin Fest did not occur.

The 26-year-old resident of Roxbury Street said not holding a 2015 Pumpkin Festival is a bad message to send.

“I don’t really think the right message to send is that we can’t handle a bunch of drunken college kids, it’s letting [the college students] win,” Rockwell said.

Rockwell said she believes that no matter how much the city is paying for police protection, Keene is still profiting from the festival.

Rockwell said, “[Members of the committee] are so caught up on the receipts of the festival that [they’re] willing to shut everything down. Everyone profits but no one wants to pay the bill.”

She said she believes the city of Keene needs Pumpkin Fest to bring in a variety of people.

“If we’re counting on people walking dogs as diversity of this town then this is a festival we need,” she said.

Another resident had a different view of a 2015 Pumpkin Festival.

Dan Curran has been a resident of Keene for over 35 years. He represented the taxpayers of Keene during the committee meeting.

He asked the committee to understand that there are people in the area that have dealt with the “craziness” of Pumpkin Fest in the past years, and suggested the ending of Pumpkin Fest.

“Nonprofits have survived before the festival and they will survive after,” Curran added.

“I’m tired of watching my tax dollars be put out for an increasing number of issues,” Curran said.

He said he believes that it’s not the festival itself that draws people in; it’s the date of the festival.

Curran said he hopes that some time down the way, another organization will create a new festival that will not create such chaos.

Ruth Sterling, Pumpkin Festival coordinator, was also in attendance at the meeting.

She suggested to the committee that the city create a security plan much like one of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s “Blarney Blowout.”

Sterling said she has sent a report of the security plan to city council members, Mayor Lane, and the President of KSC.

She said she hopes to create a plan that will ensure safety for the community. “Let’s face our fear and fix the Fest,” Sterling said.

Despite much positive discussion at the meeting, the committee unanimously voted down the license for the planning of a 2015 Pumpkin Festival.

MacKenzie Clarke can be contacted at

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