New Bedford’s Whaling City Festival will be permitted to stay open later, following an apparent reversal by the Board of Health of its original decision to force the festival to close up shop each night at 6 p.m.

Mike Sylvia, President of the Whaling City Festival, joined WBSM’s Barry Richard Friday and announced that the festival had been given the green light to remain open until 8 p.m. each night during its run from July 8-11 at Buttonwood Park.

“After extensive back-and-forth between myself and the different departments of the city, and specifically Mary Rapoza, the director of parks and rec for the City of New Bedford, it’s come down the pike that we can now stay open until eight o’clock,” Sylvia said.

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Traditionally, the festival has operated from 12 p.m. until 9 p.m.; in May, the city’s park board approved the festival to run its usual hours. However, the Board of Health stepped in and determined that because of the city’s low vaccination rate against COVID-19 and projected festival attendance of around 25,000 people, that it was better to limit the festival to a 6 p.m. closing time.

“At six o clock, honestly, we’d be dead in the water,” Sylvia said. “The families in the area would not have a chance to get there except for maybe an hour. A lot of parents work weekends. Closing at six would be a slap in the face to not let them come and enjoy this with their families in the most beautiful park in the whole city.”

Sylvia thanked New Bedford City Councilors-at-Large Brian Gomes, Ian Abreu and Naomi Carney specifically for helping push for the extension of the hours. The city council voted unanimously on June 10 to request that Mayor Jon Mitchell ask the Board of Health to allow the festival to remain open until at least 8:30 p.m. Mitchell told WBSM News on June 16 that he felt the Board of Health's decision to limit the festival’s hours was "not an unreasonable one."

Sylvia said that as part of the move to stay open longer, there will be a mobile vaccination clinic on site through the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center on Friday and Saturday, and that COVID precautions will be put into place.

“Which is what we were offering to do from the very beginning,” he said. “If you’re vaccinated, that’s one thing. If you’re not vaccinated, you should wear a mask while you’re in the park. There’s going to be sanitizer around the park.”

He also said the rides will be kept clean as well.

“The carnival has a state-approved Department of Health protocol they’re going to be running as far as sanitization and cleaning of rides,” Sylvia said, and noted there would also be crowd control measures in case attendance gets “too crazy.” “These are the things we've been offering since the very beginning. I guess that part of it must’ve got lost in translation somewhere. However, we are very grateful that we’re going to be able to be open until eight o’clock, because at least that gives the vendors a chance to try to make some of the money back that they’ve lost over the last year.”

While the festival will have many of the traditional events and attractions such as the carnival, pro wrestling, vendors, food, and a bike and car show, it won’t have live music this year.

“With everything going on, we didn’t know how the City would feel about people congregating in front of a stage,” Sylvia said. “So we’re planning something bigger with (music) for next year.”

Sylvia said he was “willing to fight tooth-and-nail” to have a later closing time, even considering a legal course of action if needed.

“Right now, with how the pricing of things are, even just gas, to travel somewhere is not financially feasible for a lot of people,” he said. “So to go to Agawam to go to Six Flags, or to go to New Hampshire or to Maine or to any of those attractions, a lot of families can’t afford to do that, so this is it for them. And it's a big thing for them, It’s kind of our big comeback after the year-long lockdown, so to me it’s a huge event, which is why I fought so hard to appeal that initial decision.”

Sylvia said he’s not sure who ultimately made the decision to allow the festival to remain open until 8 p.m., but he had a message for them.

“Thank you. This is much needed,” he said. “It’s not just about the festival. It’s about the people of the city. That’s what this festival is for.”

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