During study session June 3, the Jackson Mayor and Board of Aldermen were updated on a situation regarding the closing of the 100 block of High Street during Homecomers. Agreement was needed before the Board of Aldermen could approve an application from the American Legion for street closures.
Homecomers will be Tuesday-Saturday, July 23-27. The application requests that the 200 block of High Street and Court street be closed beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday, so carnival rides can be set up. At 5 p.m. Monday, the closures will be expanded to include the 100 block of High Street and Main Street, as carnival rides and food booths prepare for the 6 p.m. Tuesday opening of Homecomers.
Merchants on the 100 block of High Street complained to the Board at its last meeting that Homecomers hurts their profits because the streets are closed during the day even though Homecomers activities don’t begin until 6 p.m.
Seven representatives from the City, Uptown Jackson merchants, the American Legion (sponsor of Homecomers) and the carnival operator had met to hammer out an agreement.
Alderman Paul Sander attended the meeting and reported that 10 of 11 businesses on South High Street “are interested in looking at some variation to the Home-comers schedule, but not the elimination of Homecomers.”
However, it was decided that at this late date, not much change can be made to the schedule.
“It was discussed with the carnival manager and the folks at the meeting that we have the rides and the vendors open all day Saturday this year to create more traffic for the businesses (on High Street),” Sander said. Saturday is normally the busiest day for the Uptown merchants; opening the carnival instead of keeping it closed during the day on Saturday could boost their sales that day.
Larry Koehler from the American Legion mentioned that Joe Sutton, manager of the carnival, had called him back after the meeting and said he didn’t think he could keep the carnival open all day Saturday. He suggested opening 11-2, then close until 5, and re-open for the evening.
If the carnival opens at 11, his workers would have to be there at 10 to set up, work all day in the hot sun, continue working when the big crowds show up after sundown until 10:30 or 11 that night; then tear down the rides and have the streets clear by 6 a.m. Sunday. That would be a “brutal schedule that is not fair to anyone,” Sutton had told Koehler.
Sutton had also suggested offering a five percent discount coupon good for ride tickets that people could obtain by visiting Uptown merchants on Saturday. This would boost foot traffic in their stores.
To help boost Uptown merchant sales during Homecomers, Koehler suggested that coupon sheets for the merchants could be passed out to the Homecomers crowd all week.
At the previous City Council meeting, it had been mentioned that the City loses sales tax income when the merchants lose sales during Homecomers. Koehler stated that food stands and the carnival bring in sales tax on approximately $80,000 in sales during Homecomers.
He reminded the Board of Aldermen that Homecomers is the biggest fundraiser for the American Legion. The funds are used to support the Legion baseball program. There are other non-profits who raise funds during Homecomers: the Optimists, Elks, Demolay and Methodist Church all have stands. Shortening Homecomers would hurt their fundraising efforts as well.
Koehler was asked if the Legion could require a vendor to be open in the afternoon on Saturday. “I don’t know if I can require them to do it or not, or not. I’m going to call them and tell them we want them to be open,” Koehler said.
Steve Turner, director of the Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization, representing the Uptown merchants, said that the agreement made during the meeting was for the carnival to be open from 11 a.m. until close on Saturday. He was disappointed to hear the carnival manager wanted to shorten the hours of operation after the meeting.
Whether the carnival stays open all day Saturday or is open 11-2 and closed 2-5 does not affect the street closure application. “We’d be ready to go ahead and approve that permit,” City Administrator Jim Roach told the Board. He suggested that the UJRO, Legion and carnival can work out the details regarding the hours of operation on Saturday.
Koehler asked the Board if the carnival is required to be open all day Saturday, could the street closures be extended from 6 a.m. Sunday to 8 a.m. Sunday to give the carnival more time to tear down the rides. Board members were concerned that extending the hours would adversely affect people going to church Sunday morning. It was decided that City staff would contact the Uptown churches to get their input.
The merchants, Legion and UJRO agreed to work with the City to form a Homecomers committee to discuss all aspects of future Homecomers.
During the fall and winter months, these groups will discuss what can be done to create more interest in Home-comers and in visiting the Uptown merchants during Homecomers next year.