Organizers of Ambridge’s most popular festival were hoping to move the event as part of efforts to bring Nationality Days back to its roots as an ethnic and cultural celebration.
As part of the revolution, Mitchell presented a feasibility plan Tuesday seeking council support to relocate the festival two blocks over to the St. Mary’s Church parking lot on Park Road, adjacent to Route 65.
Council voted instead to approve Nationality Days for May 15 to May 18 and keep the festivities down on Merchant Street between Eighth and Fourth streets. Council also voted to approve the cost of repairing the electrical wiring on Merchant, which won’t be completed in time for the event.
Past electrical problems on Merchant Street was one of the motivations in wanting to relocate, but Mitchell said moving to Park Road would bring plenty of other advantages to the four-day event.
He said the lot has an easier layout for an electrician to provide power, not to mention better visibility, structure and security for the event.
There would be a centralized music tent with more sit-down seating, a benefit to the elderly, and, in the case of inclement weather, festival-goers would have a place to take cover, something Merchant Street lacks, he said.
Layout plans also include an added security fence along 65 and would make it easier for local police to monitor the crowd, he said.
Mitchell said the chamber's hope was to test out the new location this year, with the intention of making the lot permanent next year, when Nationality Days marks its 50th anniversary.
“We feel that with the increased exposure, we’re going to bring a lot more people out of town to this event. The Route 65 location would improve the ability for people to locate it and understand what’s going on,” he said.
With electricity and permanent infrastructure, the parking lot—now used for farmers markets throughout the summer—could eventually be used for car cruises, rib cook-offs and other local events, Mitchell said.
Several council members asked whether the chamber had approached Park Road residents. Mitchell said they had not because they wanted to determine if the change was even possible. He said there have been discussions to offer neighboring residents a VIP card to enjoy food and other incentives during the festival.
Councilwoman Tina Iorfido-Miller said she likes going back to the original concept and involving more churches and ethnic vendors, but worried the relocation would inconvenience Park Road residents.
She wasn’t alone. Council President Michael Mikulich and Councilwoman Stephanie Drewnowski said they each heard from neighbors who disapprove . Some concerns were noise, garbage, and trespassers.
“Residents I have talked to, they are not in favor of having it on Park Road whatsoever,” Drewnowski said.
Mikulich said he feels the approval request has come too late in the year to work out all the logistics. He suggested that organizers approach residents no later than July and hold a meeting to begin preparing for next year’s milestone event.
“We're going to support the Chamber of Commerce any way we can. We've got to work with our residents too," Mikulich said.
Mitchell said Merchant businesses and residents have raised similar concerns about continuing the festival on their street.
If the change works out, and the Park Road location becomes known as “the new Nationality Days,” Mitchell said he believes a lot of investment can go toward improving the parking lot and the general neighborhood, including the nearby park.
“We said from the very beginning, if we can’t get the community involved and we can’t get the support of the borough, then it’s not going to work,” Mitchell said.
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