The Santa Fe Kiwanis Club is hoping a slew of changes at this year’s Zozobra will offer a fresh start for the popular event following last year’s firestorm of complaints.
Plans include a new parking strategy that encourages people to park in downtown area lots, where they’ll be charged a flat fee of $5 the evening of Sept. 5 and have easy access to shuttles going to Fort Marcy Park and the burning of Old Man Gloom.
There will also be expanded bus service from the South Capitol Rail Runner station to the burning, and free bus fares throughout the city.
However, the city is cutting off access to parts of Artists Road, Old Taos Highway and Bishop’s Lodge Road, areas traditionally favored by the park-and-watch set. Last year alone, 3,000 people watched the burning from Artists Road, according to event organizer Ray Sandoval.
Starting Tuesday, all cars parked along the roads will be towed. On Thursday night, Old Taos Highway and Bishop’s Lodge Road will be closed to traffic.
Organizers say it’s a public safety issue. In the past, park-and-watch attendees have put barbecue grills in precarious places where they could cause fires and sometimes partying has gotten out of hand. Last year, for instance, a young child found a hypodermic needle on property after the event, and an elderly woman locked herself in a bathroom for hours after several teenagers climbed on her roof.
Other changes for this year’s Zozobra include:
• Ticket will cost $10, a decrease from the $20 charged last year. Children under 10 can attend free.
Sandoval said nearly 13,000 tickets have already been sold. In comparison, in 2011 the Kiwanis Club sold only 3,000 tickets, at $15 each, ahead of time.
• The burning of Old Man Gloom is slated to begin at 9 p.m. and should be over a half-hour later. There will also be a modified fireworks show and entertainment schedule.
• Better communication and organization, plus the addition of a few more entrance gates, is expected to eliminate the long wait times that were a source of complaints last year.
• Organizers will be able to tell Rail Runner officials to hold the train if the event does run late, meaning Albuquerque visitors don’t have to worry about making it home.
• A special “family” area on Majer’s Field will be available for viewers with strollers. People who want to see Old Man Gloom from a closer vantage point can check their strollers at the gate.
• There will be 40 temporary light towers installed in the area, an increase from the 15-20 used in previous years.
• There will be around 90 police officers patrolling the area, up from 60 officers last year. There will also be 450 volunteers working on various tasks, an increase from 200 last year.
Organizers hope the revamp quells criticism that cropped up after a series of problems plagued Zozobra last year.
The Kiwanis Club was inundated with complaints about long lines and steep admission prices for the 2012 burning. High winds also created safety problems and contributed to a two-hour delay for that immolation. Many people in the community were vocal with their dissatisfaction.
Some locals also complained the event had abandoned traditions like mariachi music in favor of hip-hop and that the elaborately staged ceremony leading up to the burning lasted far too long.