Oktoberfest looking to expand carnival


The Seymour Oktoberfest board of directors is looking to expand the annual downtown festival and improve safety by closing down East Second Street from Ewing Street to Indianapolis Avenue.

If approved by the city board of public works and safety, one lane of the road will be used for carnival rides and the other as an emergency access lane. 

The 47th Oktoberfest runs from Oct. 3 to 5. The closure would be in effect from the evening of Oct. 1 through the end of the festival.

At least one business owner impacted by the closure wants to keep it from happening.

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Mark Hopkins, owner of Bite the Bullet at 101 E. Second St., said he supports the Oktoberfest and wouldn’t have a problem if the closure was to allow more nonprofit groups to set up booths to raise money for their causes. He doesn’t support the expansion of the carnival, however.

"I would love to see the heart of the Oktoberfest expand even if that means blocking my business, but the expansion should be for what truly makes the Oktoberfest — the booths of local churches, clubs, groups and businesses, not the expansion of an out-of-state for-profit carnival company," he said.

Although the carnival company, Luehrs’ Ideal Rides of Illinois, makes money from the festival, so does Seymour Oktoberfest Inc., said Ben Stahl, festival president.

The festival charges Luehrs’ a fee to operate the carnival, and that money goes toward the Oktoberfest’s general budget to support the operation of the festival and local charitable causes, Stahl said.

In the past, profits from the carnival have been reinvested into the festival, contributed to the Seymour Oktoberfest Community Endowment through the Community Foundation of Jackson County and funded Community Progress Grants, event sponsorships and other charitable efforts, Stahl said.

The area of the proposed closure was identified by the Oktoberfest board and the city as high risk due to the volume of people in the carnival area. By closing that portion of Second Street, the festival will be much safer, Stahl said.

"The carnival area is not as safe as it could be with the additional space," Stahl said. "Over the past few years, the carnival footprint has shrunk due to changes with the railroad tracks, businesses in the proximity and the new downtown park. As a result, the areas between the rides have shrunk, and some rides are closer to power lines."

In March, Andy Schoendienst, president of Luehrs’ Ideal Rides, which provides the midway carnival rides, games and concessions for the Oktoberfest, sent a letter to Stahl about expanding the carnival. In the past, all of the rides have been contained to the B and O Parking Lot to the east of the Louisville and Indiana railroad tracks.

He said more space is needed around the rides for people to walk.

"Presently, we are utilizing every inch available," Schoendienst said. "As the festival grows, so will the crowds that occupy that space."

By utilizing Second Street, Schoendienst said some rides would be moved, and it would possibly allow for some additional new rides.

If the carnival isn’t safe, Hopkins questioned how and why it has been allowed to operate up to this point.

In addition to adding about 14,000 square feet to the carnival, the road closure eliminates the potential for a vehicle/pedestrian accident at Second Street and Indianapolis Avenue, Stahl said.

A similar decision last year closed Jeffersonville Avenue to eliminate traffic on St. Louis Avenue.

Stahl said the board has discussed the expansion with businesses in the area and has received positive and constructive feedback.

"Many of the businesses understand the importance of the festival to the downtown area," he said. "The top two concerns have been trash and security. Through these conversations, we are taking steps to address those issues."

But Hopkins said he feels he and other business owners on the block weren’t notified of the festival’s intentions early enough and the board was trying to get the closure passed before the public found out.

He also believes other options should have been considered.

Stahl said Second Street logistically made the most sense for the carnival. Although Crossroads Community Park is available, it would require pedestrians to cross railroad tracks to access, making it more of a liability.

The new closures are part of the Oktoberfest board’s overall efforts to improve safety, Stahl said. In the future, other areas will be addressed, including the parade route, biergarten and general festival area.

By coordinating with Indiana Department of Homeland Security, Indiana State Police, Indiana State Excise Police and local emergency services, the board is working to create a comprehensive emergency plan.

"Through the Indiana State Festivals Association, we have made contacts with other events in Indiana, including the Indiana State Fair, to understand best practices in festival safety," Stahl said.

Hopkins said he has a vested interest in the downtown and seeing it succeed but doesn’t think expanding the Oktoberfest carnival will help.

"Most of my time and all of my money are invested here. Not one week a year, but 52 weeks a year, I am in the heart of this downtown doing what I can to keep it alive," he said.

A decision is expected during the next Board of Works meeting at 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 19.

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