He said She said: The debate over Azalea Festival
Published: Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 18:04
She Said: Azalea Festival is a reason to celebrate
Last week marked Wilmington's 64th annual Azalea Festival, a five-day festival meant to celebrate all aspects of this culturally rich town. With concerts, circuses, parades and Azalea belles lounging in gardens, it's easy to understand why people from all over the South travel to Wilmington to partake in such an elaborate event. However, even with the wide array of events and the boost to the economy, some Wilmington locals and UNCW students are unhappy with the festival and consider it a nuisance rather than a celebration.
A major complaint amongst college students concerning the Azalea Festival seems to be the abundance of police officers and Alcohol Law Enforcement officers around town during the festival. Since the festival hosts many concerts and events there is a huge presence of alcohol, which means a potential increase in drunk driving. Law enforcement works twice as hard during the Azalea Festival to ensure the least number of accidents, and for this reason many college students have been caught drinking underage and/or drinking and driving. It's impossible to have such a large festival without an increase in the number of law enforcement officers on duty, so this is a consequence that students and people of a younger demographic need to accept. In order to have great events such as The Avett Brothers concert there has to be increased law enforcement, which means a greater chance of being caught if you're doing something that's against the law.
Not only is the Azalea Festival fun and something to instill pride within the Wilmington community, it also boosts the economy. The tourist spots that are hit hard during the summer are suddenly brought back to life every April as the town awakens from its off-season nap. However, since the downtown area becomes crowded with tourists locals complain that the Azalea Festival causes them to avoid downtown at all costs. This ends up hurting the lesser-known businesses because the locals hoping to avoid the festival are less likely to make a trip downtown. However, I can't imagine that this is a large enough problem to cause a significant amount of revenue loss.
It's selfish to want to put an end to something that has become so important to Wilmington because of such minor drawbacks. The Azalea Festival is completely unlike any festival held anywhere else, and it's something that locals and college students alike should be proud of. The festival is meant to not only celebrate the history and natural beauty of Wilmington, but to celebrate locals by showcasing art and allowing local vendors to participate in the all-day street fair. The Azalea Festival also helps unite the community and promote tourism in the Wilmington area.
If everyone would take a step back and look at all of the good that comes from the Azalea Festival, I think they would realize that the positives completely outweigh the negatives in this situation. The Azalea Festival should be something that all Wilmington locals and even UNCW students should take pride in and support, and it should give us all a reason to be proud to call Wilmington our home.
He Said: Azalea Festival Has Negative Economic Impacts
Tyler Roberts | Assistant Opinion Editor
Year in and year out, the Azalea Festival committee contends that the festival is a good thing for Wilmington's economy despite residents' and restaurateurs' arguments that the festival is disruptive to everyday business. Current research may prove that the festival does indeed provide Wilmington with economic benefits. Nevertheless, the debate continues.
The Azalea Festival has commissioned an economic impact survey to be conducted in order to show the economic benefits for the greater Wilmington area. This year the study is being conducted by UNCW researchers including economics professors Woody Hall and Steve Meinhold, Nancy Ritz and Jim Herstine, an associate professor in the Recreation Sport Leadership and Tourism Management program.
"The survey will determine two factors," Herstine said. "First, it will attempt to put a dollar figure on the festival's economic impact. Second, the survey will profile the people that come to the festival."
Recent reports estimate that the Azalea Festival brings over $7 million to Wilmington. This figure was calculated by data of years past and represents a macro figure for the local economy. The new survey will provide Wilmington with a micro figure that will be more indicative of the money that is specifically brought to Wilmington through the festival.
However, there are other issues that lie beyond the economic concerns of Wilmington. According to business owner Bekah Smith, the Azalea Festival "brings in the wrong kind of crowd."
This sentiment is shared by many Wilmington residents, especially those who are more established in the Wilmington community. In years past, the festival was an exclusive, high-class event with appearances from Hollywood's top talents and national politicians. Only recently has the festival been said to be adapted to a more common crowd.
And it is this common crowd that seems to frustrate the Wilmington community.
"It is hard for local business to operate during the Azalea Festival, especially when you have an upper-end restaurant or boutique that relies on local patrons," Smith said. "The festival brings in large crowds, but deters residents from local business."
Another controversy surrounding the festival and its effects on local business stems from out-of-state vendors. Smith believes that the festival should be used to attract visitors to businesses unique to Wilmington instead of allowing vendors to attempt to out-compete the businesses by selling cheap products.