Organizers looking to close the intersection of Williamson and Baldwin streets for a two-day music festival in early-June are pulling back from their plans in the face of neighborhood concerns.
“It will be difficult to establish a street fair this year on the June 2, 3 weekend,” wrote festival organizer Bob Queen in an email to several Williamson Street business owners Monday. “I am trying to establish a June 3rd Pursuit of Happiness Session in Central Park and would love to present music and comedy in the clubs, bars and restaurants of the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Willy St. on June 1 and 2.”
Shortly after resigning from his role as organizer of the Marquette Waterfront Festival in October, Queen began pursuing a plan to stage “The Pursuit of Happiness Festival at the Crystal Crossroads” one week before Waterfront. Queen split with the Marquette Neighborhood Association when it didn’t agree to a list of his demands.
The Pursuit event is overseen by Central Park Sessions Inc., an organization Queen formed to run a series of concerts he started in 2014. It is unaffiliated with the MNA and the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center, nonprofits involved in the staging of four large east side festivals — Waterfront, Fete de Marquette, Orton Park Festival and Willy Street Fair — that draw large crowds to the neighborhood with eclectic live music, food and beer.
Ald. Marsha Rummel, whose district includes Marquette, held a neighborhood meeting Jan. 3 to discuss the Pursuit of Happiness event. Queen did not attend, but instead sent Justice Castañeda, executive director of Common Wealth Development and a member of the Central Park Sessions board, to field questions and attempt to quell concerns.
Many of those in attendance spoke about how they enjoyed the neighborhood events and admired Queen’s work in organizing them, but were concerned about closing the Williamson/Baldwin intersection on the same weekend that Plan B nightclub proposes to block off the 900 block of Williamson for its annual Fruit Fest event.
At the meeting, a Madison Metro representative pointed out that the event would re-route buses that typically run on Williamson, Baldwin and Jenifer streets four blocks north to East Washington Avenue.
Rummel wrote on her blog that she asked Pursuit of Happiness organizers to move their event to Central Park. And Castañeda informed MNA board members and others via email that Common Wealth pulled its support from the event, as proposed.
“My advice is that the (Central Park Sessions) Board take a look at the concerns (i.e. why the same date as Fruit Fest? Why not in the Park? Why not as part of CPS?), and see if they cannot revisit their proposal with these things addressed,” Castañeda wrote in his email. “I do not think the proposal should go forward to the Street Use Committee in January in its current form.”
Madison's Street Use Staff Commission and Alcohol License Review Committee were to review applications for the event at their Wednesday meetings, but both items have been pulled from their agendas.
"In an email to me and the City Clerk in charge of alcohol licenses, Bob Queen stated they will be incorporating the Pursuit of Happiness concept and appreciation for contributions of The Crystal Corner Bar to the success of neighborhood festivals and the business at the east end of Williamson Street into one of the existing Central Park Sessions events," Rummel said in an email Monday.
At their monthly meeting Monday night, MNA board members planned to discuss plans to create criteria to address future street fair proposals.