New Bedford’s Whaling City Festival Has Its Hours Reduced Again
New Bedford's Whaling City Festival has had its hours adjusted again this year by City Hall.
After battling successfully with city health officials over an order to close early last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, festival organizers have been told to reduce daily operating hours by an hour each day this year, reportedly due to concerns about possible violence by rival street gangs.
Last year, the New Bedford Health Department rejected the festival's planned operating hours of 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and ordered a 6 p.m. closing time to reduce the spread of COVID. After realizing how little sense the order made, the sides agreed to an 8 p.m. closing time instead.
Festival organizer Mike Sylvia told me the New Bedford Park Board approved a 9 p.m. closing time for this year's event back in February, which the police did not object to in April.
Sylvia said he was informed about a week and a half ago that the park department now wants the festival "shut down and cleared out by 8 p.m., which means the police department will have to start this process around 7:30 p.m."
Sylvia said vendor contracts have already been signed, and vendors are expecting a 9 p.m., not 8 p.m., closing time for the Whaling City Festival. He said the festival's busiest hours are between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. and that vendors will lose money.
Sylvia called the decision unfair since the New Bedford Folk Festival July 9-10 will be allowed to remain open until 9 p.m. The Feast of the Blessed Sacrament and the Day of Portugal festivals will each be allowed to operate well after 9 p.m.
City Councilor Brian Gomes lashed out at the Mitchell Administration over the decision, saying that "The people own the park," and "there is no reason for this festival to take a hit."
Gomes mocked Mayor Jon Mitchell's recent claim that crime is down by 39 percent.
"Crime? I thought we had no crime," Gomes said.
"I'm sick and tired of closing things down because of a small percentage of people," Gomes said, and called on Mitchell to ask Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson for help with security if needed.
City Council President Ian Abreu told me he wants the festival to remain open until 9 p.m. as well.
"Festivals like the Whaling City Festival provide free or low-cost entertainment for our community, and their efforts should be applauded and supported," he said.
Abreu and Gomes have pledged to lobby the administration to reverse the decision to shorten the festival's hours.
In his weekly appearance on WBSM, Mayor Mitchell said he considered the matter "settled," pointing to the fact that in 2014, a decision was made to close festivals at Buttonwood and Brooklawn Parks at 8 p.m. because of the security challenges of a "wide open" park once it gets dark.
The Whaling City Festival is scheduled for July 7-10 at Buttonwood Park.