Arts fair debate rears its head |

Arts fair debate rears its head

JANE STEBBINSsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Jane Stebbins

BRECKENRIDGE Terry McGrath Craig is learning that too much of a good thing can be bad.The co-owner of Hibberd McGrath Art Gallery in Breckenridge has heard from longtime customers that they wont be visiting Breckenridge over the Fourth of July or Labor Day weekends because they arent comfortable wandering Main Street.The problem? Too many people.We feel like the whole community is affected because theres too much going on on one weekend, she said. It affects parking, traffic …Its part of a bigger debate thats been going on for years that involves J&M Jewelry owner Mark Belings art fairs and their impact on other merchants in town.Tuesday afternoon, art gallery owners asked the Breckenridge Town Council either to ask Beling to move his art shows to a different location or date or rescind its contract with him for this years fairs. The town council members said they would check with town attorney Tim Berry to see what the financial ramifications might be if they were to rescind the contract.I dont feel comfortable going back on our word, said Councilmember Jeffrey Bergeron. Its not fair to say something and then take it back, and we could be legally vulnerable. We need to weigh what the arts fair contributes to town against what it detracts from the merchants.Town council members agreed that if merchants are doing poorly on those weekends, they should open their books and show how they are affected so they can address the issue. Gary Freese, owner of the Breckenridge Art Gallery and a leading opponent of the art fair setup, has urged them not to do so. Freese said congestion, parking and gridlock not sales are the problems.But most of the town council said Wednesday they were under the impression Freese was talking about financial hardships, not stresses on the town infrastructure.I try to be a really good listener, and I didnt hear it, said Mayor Ernie Blake. And he spoke for a long time. Wed need to hear from the police chief who best understands congestion and whether were handling it. He has to cope with it in tough days in the winter and tough days in the summer. I didnt realize were dealing with the same problems we do on tough winter days.If thats the issue: Congestion, parking, fishing whatever well take it on, he added. But weve got to put this one to bed.Regardless, council members arent sure all the crowding is such a bad thing.Is it congestion, or is it animation? said Councilmember Larry Crispell. When the art shows in town, I see people walking up and down that area and you normally dont see that kind of activity. I see a circulation pattern of those people going into town. I see people carrying bags. Theyve been shopping in town.Freese brought to the meeting a list of 33 merchants along Main Street who feel town is negatively affected by the art fairs.He suggested the town either move the event a week before or after the two holiday weekends or ask Beling to move his event to the Stephen C. West Ice Arena at the south end of town. Currently, the fairs are held on the Wellington parking lot at Wellington Road and Main Street.But Beling said the event hasnt fared well at the ice rink in previous years because its so far off the beaten track. The town also had problems with cars parked along Boreas Pass Road during the shows that were held there.Ive got thousands of dollars in ads out there, Beling said. To rescind it now would be a heck of a thing on a national scale. Itd be hard to give it up at this point.Beling works up to a year in advance of each show, lining up artists, judging their work and pulling together the logistics. A change would also force artists to change their schedules, which are often set a year in advance.Another concern merchants had was that they believed the town was going to solicit input from them before penning an agreement with Beling this year. Last March, Freese brought 21 signatures of people concerned with the impact of art fairs to the council, and was told to wait to discuss the issue after the April election. The merchants want to make sure theyre not omitted from discussion for next years fairs.The retail community is convinced the town will do darn well what it wants to do, Freese said. But were not going away. Were not giving up. Were going to work harder at getting a very bad situation changed.Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or at

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