Huge crowd expected at Zozobra burning - Albuquerque Journal

Huge crowd expected at Zozobra burning

The more than 60,000 people expected to show up for Zozobra tonight will be able to cross from one field to another the same way they’ve done for decades – but now with a safer, bigger, sturdier bridge.

A new concrete bridge over the arroyo between the Fort Marcy ballpark, where Old Man Gloom burns, and Magers Field is ready just in time for the 93rd annual demise of the 50-foot puppet.

The bridge is made up of three box-like structures that together are 30 feet long and 90 feet wide, said John Romero, director of the Engineering Division in the city’s Public Works office.

The new bridge replaced a walkway that had to be evacuated at 2015’s puppet roasting when it became dangerously overloaded.

“We wanted to be very careful with taxpayer money,” said Zozobra chairman Ray Sandoval, explaining why the bridge was not completed in time for last year’s event, which necessitated altering access plans.

“We knew we were asking the city for a large investment and so we had to bite the bullet last year,” said Sandoval.

He said the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, the organization in charge of Zozobra, spent 2016 studying what kind of bridge should be built, its size and its cost before submitting a proposal to the city.

The Kiwanians gave $80,000 toward the bridge project, which cost about $700,000 total. “I think we’re in a better position now,” said Sandoval.

The new 90-foot-wide bridge over the arroyo between Magers Field and Fort Marcy baseball park is ready for what’s expected to be a record crowd for the torching of Zozobra tonight. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The bigger bridge should reduce crowd bottlenecks and allow for a safer mass exit in case of an emergency. Sandoval added that another perk is that tree removal around the new bridge ensures better viewing from Magers Field and for the crowd to be more spread out – although some neighborhood residents have bemoaned the loss of Siberian elms along the arroyo.

While the new crossing, strong enough to support large vehicles, was being planned, the old main bridge was removed and the two smaller foot bridges between the two fields were closed for last year’s Zozobra.

Access was rerouted and Sandoval said a miscommunication with police officers led to thousands being turned away. This year, volunteers will direct the crowd to entry points in order to prevent similar mishaps.

“We were very proactive to say, ‘Look, we screwed up. We had a miscommunication,’ ” said Sandoval. He said the Kiwanis Club refunded 2016 tickets for people who reached out to them soon after they couldn’t get in and offered them premium tickets for this year. For some who had made hotel arrangements last year and were able to provide receipts, Kiwanis Club partnered with Drury Hotel to give them discounted rates for 2017.

A record 60,000 people have already purchased tickets for tonight’s event – that’s seven times the number who bought advance tickets by this time last year, when a total of 55,000 saw the burning, according to Sandoval.

This year’s total includes about 1,200 people who got new premium tickets that Sandoval says sold out quickly. The tickets offered for between $35-$150 provided a range of seating outside the general area, including places like the ballpark grandstands and on a raised platform on the edge of the ballpark. The premium tickets holders can also use the two older, smaller arroyo bridges for access.

A small number of attendees also paid $200 to be VIPs, with a private escort to the event and access to a private viewing area.

The Kiwanis Club has netted about $65,000 dollars from the premium ticket, which will help fund security-related costs like closing roads and checking the bags of entrants. Sandoval says security is a “skyrocketing” expense and the new revenue helps to prevent the need to cut money raised for local children’s charities and keep general admission affordable.

Last year’s net revenue, just under $50,000, went mostly to citywide grants, which helped fund initiatives including programming at Youthworks and Girls Inc., support for women with young children at St. Elizabeth’s Shelter and a back-to-school event with the Salvation Army. Zozobra funds also went toward a Kiwanis Club International project with UNICEF to combat neonatal tetanus infections.

Even with a new bridge that can handle more people, Sandoval says this year’s Zozobra won’t end right after the burning to encourage a slower crowd exit.

To correlate with the Zozobra’s Decades Project – honoring one decade each year leading up to Zozobra’s 100th anniversary in 2024 – there will be a DJ playing music to introduce next year’s 1960s theme following the annual Fiesta song.

This year’s Zozobra was awaiting his fiery fate at the Santa Fe Place mall last week. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

To complement the 2017 Old Man Gloom’s attire – a 1950s-style cardigan and having his thumbs up like Fonzie from “Happy Days” – the pre-burning festivities and ritual will also have a ’50s flare. Sandoval said one of the musical acts will play music from the decade that he hopes that will create the “world’s largest sockhop.”

And for the ritual leading up to ignition of Old Man Gloom, torchbearers will act like a ’50s teen gang.

“They’re going to come out snapping their fingers like ‘West Side Story,’ ” Sandoval said. They will also wear high school letter jackets with vintage letters provided by St. Michaels High School, Santa Fe High School and the Santa Fe Indian School.

Along with this year’s “off-the-charts” ticket sales, Sandoval also emphasized that Santa Fe’s growing love for the burning is one of the reasons for high crowd estimates. He says organizers have spent time trying to create an “enjoyable, comfortable” experience for anyone who wants to get rid of gloom.

“Zozobra is definitely coming into its own … and I think people are excited about it and want to be a part of it,” he said. Sandoval took over the show in 2013 after a burning marred by bad weather and delays, and amid growing complaints about higher ticket prices and increasingly elaborate productions that steered away from tradition.

Access to tonight’s event starts at 3 p.m. and will be from Bishop’s Lodge Road only, not via Old Taos Highway like last year.

Small, foldable baby strollers are allowed in Magers Park, but cannot be brought into the ballpark area. Strollers can be checked in for families who want to get onto the ball field.

Santa Fe Trails buses will be free all day today. A Zozo pickup service will run from downtown and Railyard parking garages and lots to near the event entrance. People with disabilities can park in the South Capitol parking lot at St. Francis Drive and Cordova Road, and ride in. There will also be expanded bus service from the South Capitol Railrunner stop. The Railrunner’s schedule has been adjusted to accommodate the Zozobra schedule.

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