Major Middletown events: Organizers waiting on decisions for key summer gatherings

Public health orders to prevent community spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has local event organizers pausing planning for some of Middletown summer events, such as the Ohio Challenge hot-air balloon festival. Organizers said they are awaiting further clarity from local and state health officials before finalizing plans. FILE PHOTO

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Public health orders to prevent community spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has local event organizers pausing planning for some of Middletown summer events, such as the Ohio Challenge hot-air balloon festival. Organizers said they are awaiting further clarity from local and state health officials before finalizing plans. FILE PHOTO

Organizers are closely monitoring state actions and guidance for their affect on major outdoor events in Middletown such as the Broad Street Bash, the July 3 Broad Street Blast and city fireworks and the Ohio Challenge hot air balloon festival.

Many major events and concerts scheduled later this summer throughout the state have been canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ohio’s stay-at-home order prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people and asks for social distancing and wearing of personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks.

Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips said the city is looking at how to hold parades and festivals as well as graduations safely.

“The worst thing we could do is have multiple mass gatherings at the same time,” she said. “We need to do things strategically.”

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The 14th season of the Broad Street Bash was scheduled to open May 27 at Governor’s Square in downtown Middletown. Organizer Adriane Scherrer said that “won’t happen.” She said organizers will announce updated information about the summer concert series when it becomes available.

The concert series featuring local and regional bands attracts between 1,750 and 2,000 people downtown per concert, she said.

The annual Broad Street Blast concert downtown and city’s Independence Day Celebration fireworks at Smith Park are scheduled for July 3 but no decisions have been made yet about cancelling or postponing the fireworks show as of Thursday.

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Shelby Quinlivan, city spokeswoman, said discussions are underway but will depend on what orders are in effect after May 1, when the current stay-at-home order expires in Ohio.

“We don’t have any official plans yet,” she said.

Quinlivan said the annual event is paid for by city funds and sponsorships with a $50,000 to $55,000 budget.

“(We) haven’t been able to do all of the sponsorship asking like we planned due to COVID-19,” she said.

Last December, Middletown City Council approved an emergency ordinance to appropriate up to $35,000 from the 2019 city budget for the 2020 fireworks show.

Quinlivan said the 2019 fireworks attracted more than 25,000 people. This will be the fifth year for the fireworks that were reinstated after a number of years without a Fourth of July show. Yokum Fireworks of Cincinnati was contracted for the 2020 fireworks show.

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David Pearce of the Ohio Challenge board said the annual hot air balloon festival remains “in a holding pattern awaiting greater guidance from local and state health officials.”

“We’re still evaluating,” he said. “Our number one priority is to keep everyone, our guests, volunteers, performers and vendors, safe. It wouldn’t make sense to hold it if we can’t have a safe environment for everyone.

The event attracts between 25,000 and 30,000 over two days at Smith Park. Pearce said at peak times during the day there are about 10,000 to 15,000 people at the event.

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Mary Hutlinger, the Middletown Visitors Bureau executive director, said event organizers are not putting down any money until they get clear answers from the state.

“It’s a huge unknown with sponsorships,” she said. “They’re trying to be optimistic but as each week goes by, it’s harder to be optimistic.”

Hutlinger said the numbers at local hotels are doing their best to survive the coronavirus as they hang on until everyone gets on the other side of the pandemic.

As for the work of the visitors bureau this year, Hutlinger said they have shifted its focus to becoming a hub of information in the community. Among the activities are keeping a list of local restaurants that are open for carry-out; knowing what assets and attractions that can be visited in a safe way in Middletown; and obtaining other information to share with people.

In addition, the visitors bureau sponsored a virtual bingo game that attracted 500 unique visitors to play for gift cards to local restaurants and shops. The bureau gave away $1,600 in gift cards to 25 winners, Hutlinger said.

Another social media challenge was launched this week that allows people to accent photos with Middletown stickers online. She said there will be a winner each week to receive a gift card. The bureau also created a “Middletown busy book” filled with games, puzzles and things to color.

“We’re trying to create a space with positivity and fun,” Hutlinger said.

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