Fests’ Future at Risk
“We’re still debating [any changes],” said Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl. “We’re having a discussion with the university and we are having discussions within ourselves. The idea that you could have somebody come and set fire to someone’s house is not a nice thing. Our responsibility is to protect the citizenry, and that includes students as well as residents. That’s our job as a city, and the festivals do not make it easy.”
There have been at least two unannounced meetings between Ohio University administrators and city officials over the past few days to discuss the incident and the future of OU’s unsanctioned student festivals. Wiehl said the meetings are not open to the public.
On Saturday, Palmer Fest ended early with a house fire at 11 Palmer St. around 7 p.m. According to a media release from the city, unruly partygoers threw bottles at law enforcement and interfered with the Athens Fire Department’s ability to contain the fire.
Mayor Wiehl declared the area a riot area at 7:35 p.m. so law enforcement could clear the street and allow AFD to contain the fire. The street was cleared by 8:20 p.m. and the fire was contained by 8:30 p.m. The house has been deemed uninhabitable due to damage from the fire and smoke, according to the city news release. As a result, the residents have been offered temporary housing by Ohio University.
The Ohio State Fire Marshal declared the fire arson Monday and is rewarding $5,000 for information leading to an arrest. Their contact number is 800-589-2728.
Before Saturday’s incident, the fest future was already uncertain due to OU’s switch to semesters in fall 2012. The festivals typically run late spring quarter, and with semesters classes will end much sooner, not leaving as much time for “spring fests” in warmer weather.
Wiehl said he would not like to have the festivals in the future because of the cost to the city and the risks involved.
“It costs the city money; basically we will probably spend about $40,000 total on all of the festivals. And that’s just a guess from what we spent last year, but that means that $40,000 doesn’t go to fixing other things,” said Wiehl.