Press-Republican

April 20, 2013

Informal Springfest party canceled

FELICIA KRIEG
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — Springfest, an informal annual event organized by SUNY Plattsburgh students or alumni, has been canceled this year.

“We received A LOT of political pressure from the Chief of Police and the City, enough so to prevent the main Spring Fest event from happening,” SUNY Plattsburgh alumnus Ryan Corry announced the news on Facebook Wednesday.

“They also applied this pressure to pretty much every bar we sought to work with.”

The large-scale party, held at different venues from year to year, draws hundreds of students and has proved fertile ground for fights and vandalism.

Last year, Springfest was held at Gilligan’s Getaway on Route 9 north of the City of Plattsburgh, where several brawls broke out and law enforcement from three departments converged on the bar.

Several hundred college students, from both SUNY Plattsburgh and Clinton Community College, were at that party. It had been promoted heavily on social network sites, and many who planned to be there had called for a wild time and even violence.

In 2011, six arrests were made after a party attended by some 300 college students at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 125 on Boynton Avenue in the City of Plattsburgh erupted into a riot. There were injuries as well, and damage to the facilities there.

’GOT ROASTED’

Springfest is not endorsed by or affiliated with the college, said Michelle Ouellette, director of public relations and publications at SUNY Plattsburgh.

On Tuesday, the event’s Facebook page had changed its name from Springfest to SF Pub Crawl 2013, “Plattsburgh’s annual, anticipated and premiere crawl,” which was planned for Saturday, May 4.

It, too, fizzled out.

“The Pub Crawl was an attempt to salvage the (Springfest) event, for the large number of people and spread it out (to) several smaller bars downtown,” Corry posted.

“We tried our best to get something off the ground, but unfortunately this year we got roasted.”

The event’s Facebook page was originally listing Springfest ticket prices ranging from $25 to $40 for VIP access.

When the event was changed to the Pub Crawl, the T-shirts, which would have been tickets, were priced at either $10 or $15.

According to the page, the ticket price for the “multi-venue pub crawl” would have included performances, music provided by disc jockeys and an after-party.

The Pub Crawl was for those 21 and older who could provide valid IDs to bar employees, the site said.

As of Wednesday, 1,585 people were listed on the page as planning to take part in the event.

Students expressed their disappointment and frustration with police on the page after they learned the celebration had been canceled.

INPUT SOUGHT

Authorities were concerned about Springfest.

Plattsburgh City Police Chief Desmond Racicot said City of Plattsburgh Mayor Donald Kasprzak had forwarded him a letter from Green Room bar owner Chris Dumont asking for the Police Department’s position on the bar hosting the event.

“It’s not something that I would suggest as a benefit to the city,” Racicot said.

Dumont could not be reached for comment.

Law enforcement and public safety need to be addressed every night, the police chief said, but the preparation and the need for police presence increases with large parties that involve hundreds of people.

Among those are issues are liquor licensing, fire and health codes and city ordinances.

If a business were to hold an event of this magnitude, it would need to have special permits, Racicot said.

A temporary change in alcohol licensing would need to be approved by the New York State Liquor Authority, City Clerk Keith Herkalo said.

He wasn’t aware of any business that had applied for a city permit for a Springfest-like event, but that permission would only cover events that would happen on city property outside of a business, he said.

“As far as I’m concerned, if the appropriate and legal behavior is followed by anybody downtown, then we don’t have any problem,” City of Plattsburgh Mayor Donald Kasprzak said before the Pub Crawl was shut down.

Clinton County Sheriff David Favro, too, is “fully in support of organized, properly managed events that provide entertainment and recreation for the community but are done so in a legitimate, legal fashion.”

But Springfest doesn’t have the best track record, he said, and the nature of such events often leads to problems.

“As soon as you introduce alcohol or any other drug, people don’t think rationally,” he said. “They don’t think about consequences; they don’t think about other people.”

The Sheriff’s Department saw that first-hand when responding to last year’s Springfest.

As well, he added, dispatchers, EMTs and ambulance crews get overloaded with calls, spreading resources thin and possibly slowing response times for other problems in other parts of the county.

“You tie up a lot of other resources.”

’OUR LAST HURRAH’

“I think the members of the city and law enforcement that are against it are making it a bigger deal than it is,” said Plattsburgh State junior Brittany Lareau. “I have been to Springfests for other SUNY schools, which were actually hosted by their schools, and there were no issues at all.”

One of those featured a concert that 6,500 students attended and not one issue came up, she said, “but, for some reason, they think the students of SUNY Plattsburgh are not capable of handling such an event.”

Melody Mentiply, a junior from Hoosick Falls, spoke to the Clinton County Legislature at a recent meeting, expressing her support for Springfest.

“I’m pretty sure the whole campus shares my opinion. Everybody really, really wants it,” Mentiply said. “We don’t have a homecoming here, we don’t have football or anything. This is our last hurrah before everyone graduates.”

Mentiply said the event is most often portrayed in a negative light, but it is good for the community.

”It is promoting the arts and for new bands. You don’t hear about that much.”

She attended a past Springfest at the Naked Turtle in Plattsburgh and didn’t see much illegal activity, she said.

“I really didn’t see any fights or any problems like that,” she said. “Everybody was outside just standing around ... just listening to the music.”

“They were in college, at one point,” Mentiply said of those who express misgivings about the event. “They should really be less strict.”

’MAKE IT LEGAL, SAFE’

Racicot said he is aware of the students’ points of view.

“Obviously, you want to blow off some steam, and they’re more than entitled to that.”

But it needs to be done legally and safely, he said.

“Plattsburgh State and their students have been very good. There are college-related issues, but things are much different than they were in the ‘80s and the early ‘90s,” he said.

“Most of the students are very thoughtful to the community.”

But when it comes to events like Springfest, some “miss that backstory, what it takes to make sure people are safe.

“I can remember several years ago where some Plattsburgh State students were selling bracelets to provide alcohol. That’s not legal.”

LARGE COST

A venue that hosts an event like Springfest will make thousands of dollars in a single day, Racicot said.

“We’re talking $30,000 plus. This is not a regular college party.”

And while these large-scale events may bring money to the area, they also come at a cost to the city, Racicot. The Police Department has to beef up patrols, paying officers overtime and incurring other expenses.

“It’s costing the city a whole lot more.”

An event like Springfest could go smoothly or it could cause problems, potentially putting city residents and party-goers in danger, Racicot said.

“The problem is, you don’t know what you’re going to be dealing with,” he said. “The police have the responsibility to come in and make sure the people that are there are safe and that the people who are promoting (the event) there are following the laws.”

In the past, the City Police Department has had problems with underage drinking, people drinking to the point where they need medical attention, fights and quality-of-life issues like vandalism and noise, Racicot said.

“Those things don’t happen every time. That’s not to say you can’t have a venue. There are a lot of professional organizations that hold events, concerts, fairs ... but there’s a cost associated with that.”

During Springfest in May 2008, nine street signs in the Center City area were either knocked over or taken out of the ground. The damage cost taxpayers more than $1,000.

“It’s not something we would support,” Racicot said of Springfest. “We don’t know the liability. It’s just risk mitigation.”

And while it seemed the party got doused this time around, Corry did not express complete defeat on Facebook.

“We guarantee the main event for next year,” he wrote.

Email Felicia Krieg:fkrieg@pressrepublican.com