Nearly 43 years after attending the event himself, Mayor Paul Soglin made clear his intent to end the Mifflin Street Block Party once and for all this school year.
“We’re headed in a direction to end the block party,” Soglin told The Badger Herald. “Hopefully this year.”
Soglin cited cost and safety reasons for his decision to look for an end to the nearly 44-year tradition, and he added the money spent on the block party might be better used for more pressing city issues.
“We’re trapped between tremendous expenses and significantly dangerous behavior in a time where the challenges of poverty need attention,” Soglin said.
Soglin said a significant amount of discourse between city officials, resident and students would take place before a final decision is made about the future of the event.
Madison Police Chief Noble Wray said for the Mifflin Street Block Party to continue, the location, levels of alcohol and violence and cost to taxpayers would need to be drastically changed.
“In a difficult economic time, or any time, I don’t think we should be spending money on a party like this in this fashion,” Wray said. “You’re spending $100-200,000 for a party at a time when people are trying to make ends meet. I don’t think that’s an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.”
Wray added the 2012 party took a $65,000 jump in costs compared to 2011’s event, costing the city and taxpayers approximately $195,000.
Soglin declined to speculate how city officials would respond should students congregate on Mifflin Street the first Saturday in May despite plans to cancel the party, but Wray said MPD would continue to work to provide a safe event no matter what.
“Whatever happens on Mifflin Street, we will do anything and everything we can to ensure it’s safe,” Wray said.
Wray suggested fundamentally altering the block party much like Halloween festivities were transformed into Freakfest several years ago. Like Soglin, Wray said discourse between the main stakeholders invested in the event – including downtown vendors, community residents, city officials and students – would take place before a final decision on the block party is made.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, suggested the party be moved to an alternate location and undergo significant structural changes in order to keep the tradition alive.
“I remain supportive of the desire to move the event elsewhere and provide it greater structure, because the reality is that the event just cannot be made safe in its current historic location, and in fact costs the taxpayers a lot of money in our efforts to keep it safe,” Verveer said.
Verveer named city parks or an area on campus as potential venues should the block party take place in 2013.
Wray expressed his support for a location change to a less residential area, citing space problems and subsequent safety issues as major difficulties with the block party’s current location.
“It’s not a location that is conducive to having tens of thousands of people crammed into a street,” Wray said. “We should look for a location where we can improve access, and where we can improve crowd control.”