SALEM — City Hall has formed a plan that would put 12 carnival rides and five game tents on the Salem Common this October, but residents clashed over the idea at the first opportunity Wednesday night.
The plan, likely to hit the City Council chambers next week, was showcased to residents at a Salem Common Neighborhood Association meeting. A couple hundred residents seemed to lean against the proposal based on comments, though there were numerous comments also in support.
The Haunted Happenings carnival, hosted since its inception in 2007 at a downtown Derby Street parking lot, has been described as a necessary safety component to controlling raucous crowds each Halloween. Officials have also highlighted its revenue-generating powers, while opponents of its relocation downtown have cited safety, parking impacts and concerns about “trading away this city for 30,000 pieces of silver,” as one resident — Mary Madore — said midway into the meeting.
Leaders have been trying to relocate the carnival for the last several months after the parking lot that once hosted the carnival was bought by the city and made unavailable due to ongoing park construction. An initial pitch to put the carnival at Riley Plaza suffered a perhaps lethal blow from city councilors in recent weeks as a call for a plan B became louder.
This proposal, unveiled for the first time Wednesday night, comes with a 13-item list of requirements describing which rides would be allowed on the Common, when they would be set up and torn down and at what times the carnival would operate.
Additionally, the proposal would require that Fiesta Shows, the company historically behind the Derby Street carnival, repair any damage to grass or irrigation systems caused by the rides.
The terms also require that a percentage of cash raised by the carnival be donated directly to the Salem Common Neighborhood Association “to off-set their lost revenue from the children’s carnival.” The association has typically held a smaller children’s carnival at the Common as one of its primary annual fundraisers, despite the ban on the books.
Mayor Kim Driscoll emphasized that the pitch for this October is a short-term one.
“This isn’t something we’re anticipating happening every single year. We’re trying to pilot it for a year to see if there are any issues or concerns going forward,” Driscoll said. “We’re only signing up for one year.”
Opposition to the plan piled on quick once residents were given a microphone to speak.
“Halloween has evolved from an event 20 years ago, which was primarily for people in town, to now becoming a money-making enterprise,” said area Charlie Heaps. “I don’t really think it’s reasonable that the Common neighborhood, which already has to bear the brunt of this event, should bear even bigger.”
Salem resident Mary Madore called the proposal “a mockery of our heritage.”
“Five months ago, our mayor was talking about patriotism, the muster, the formation of the National Guard,” Madore said. “I treasure that. I don’t want to see the Common trashed.”
Federal Street neighborhood resident John Carr, a frequent opponent to proposals championed by Driscoll, pushed Driscoll to explain why the situation “has been allowed to become a crisis.” Other comments noted that the timeline for the event has it setting up and tearing down a month from now.
“Why are we here at the last minute?” Carr asked. “We knew that site (on Derby Street) wasn’t available, and you had over a year to deal with it in a judicious way, even if all your arguments were sound — which I don’t believe they are.”
Resident Kristine Doll, meanwhile, said Driscoll’s proposal was “a dereliction of your duty.”
“There is an ordinance in existence (prohibiting Common carnivals), and you wait until three weeks before or two weeks before it’s set up?” Doll said. “I wish we were told about this a year ago, so I had time to think about it instead of reacting to it.”
Late in the meeting, Hawthorne Hotel general manager Claire Kallelis stated the hotel’s ownership and management was against the proposal. The hotel sits at one of the Common’s corners and hosted the meeting.
But for all those against the pitch, there were also several rallying behind it — including identified members of the Salem Common Neighborhood Association.
“The Common is my front door. I, daily, see the activity on the Common, and I think this is a good plan,” said Barbara Swartz, a Forrester Street resident and membership coordinator of the neighborhood association. “I’m for the one-year trial with a post-event debrief to see if it’s going to work or not. I don’t think you have anything to lose by that.”
Essex Street resident Ben Winthrop said carnivals “annoy me. They really do. They’re full of teenagers and tweenagers.”
“It will annoy me, but it’s the best option for the city of Salem to have it here,” Winthrop said. “If the police say this makes their job that much easier, and this is this is the best place for them, then I can put up with the annoyance.”
1. Carnival will operate for 19 days, from Oct. 12 to Oct. 31. Setup takes place from Oct. 9 to 11, and tear-down from Nov. 1 to 2.
2. Carnival will include 12 rides, including five children’s rides previously on the Common and seven for older children and adults.
3. Eliminate the “Fireball” rides due to noise issues. Other rides with lights on the back will be eliminated, and those used will have full backs without lights, to protect neighbors.
4. Setup will avoid impacts to irrigation system.
5. Any damage to grass or irrigation will be repaired by Fiesta Shows.
6. Proposed footprint is about 65,000 square feet, or 16 percent of the Common.
7. Location is away from the historic iron Common fence, and will keep existing paved walkways accessible to keep people off the grass.
8. Carnival will be fenced and monitored by police during operating hours.
9. Proposed hours are: Monday through Thursday, 3 to 9 p.m.; Friday, 3 to 1 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Oct. 31 from 3 to 10 p.m.
10. Music will be turned off at 9 p.m. on all nights, except for Sunday, when it will be shut down at 8 p.m., and Oct. 31, when it will be shut down at 10 p.m. Volumes will be lower than that at 289 Derby St., and a detail officer will be in charge of sound volume.
11. Percentage of carnival revenue during the final two weekends will be donated to the Salem Common Neighborhood Association, to offset lost revenue from their children’s carnival.
12. Salem Common Neighborhood Association board members, city leaders and Fiesta Shows will meet in early November for an “after-action” discussion on how the carnival went. Any future use of the Common for the October carnival would require approval from the City Council each time.
13. October movies previously shown on the Common will take place at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site on Oct. 13, 20 and 27. The Oct. 6 movie will still be held on the Common.