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Zozobra date debate continues

SANTA FE, N.M. — While the burning of Zozobra this year will be held Aug. 29 — the Friday before Labor Day — the debate over when to hold one of the City Different’s most unique and popular events continues.

For years, the event has been held on the Thursday before Santa Fe’s Fiesta, the week after Labor Day. But this year the Kiwanis Club, which stages the event at Fort Marcy Park, received a permit from the city to hold it on a Friday night.

“Thursday is just not viable,” said Ray Sandoval, the event organizer, who added that families steer away from attending the event on a school night. “We view this as our survival. We’ve been trying to deal with the loss of Friday night for a long time.”

The event, now in its 90th year, has been held on a Thursday since 1999, the year after a fatal shooting on Santa Fe’s Plaza the night of Zozobra.

But some members of the business community are opposed to moving it to Friday, concerned about a rowdy crowd descending on the downtown area after the burning is over.

Another concern, Sandoval said, is that businesses tend to close early on both the Fridays before Labor Day and Fiesta weekend and they don’t want to do that on consecutive weeks.

Sandoval said he’s hoping the burning will eventually be moved back to the Friday of the Fiesta.

“Now we’ll work with the Fiesta council to see if we can get it back to Fiesta Friday. That would be huge,” he said.

City Councilor Patti Bushee is also on board with that.

“It’s a matter of making it the best it can be as a community celebration and to appease the business community. The only way to get it done is to have community dialogue,” Bushee said. “Now it’s up to the city to come up with the financial wherewithal to get it done.”

Bushee was the target of a social media campaign over the weekend that urged people to call her and insist she not try to move the event back to Thursday.

The campaign came after the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported last week that Bushee and business owners met with Mayor Javier Gonzales and Acting City Manager Brian Synder over the event being held on Friday.

Bushee says all she did was arrange for her constituents to meet with the city’s top administrators so they could hear the merchants’ concerns.

“It’s always been my interest to move it back to Fiesta Friday,” she said, adding that something got “lost in translation” when the newspaper reported on the meeting.

The New Mexican reported that two of the businesses involved in that meeting were La Fonda on the Plaza and the Inn of the Anasazi. Neither of those businesses nor the mayor returned phone messages from the Journal on Monday.

Sandoval said the Kiwanis Club’s biggest concern in staging the event is public safety, and that he understands that security concerns by the business community and city police are real.

But he hopes that the business community will understand their position, as well.

“They have 365 days to make their business work. I have one night to make it successful, so we ask them to work with us,” he said.

Sandoval said that one reason the event was moved to Aug. 29 this year was to help businesses. He said hotel occupancy is lower during the week leading up to Labor Day, citing a 56.2 percent occupancy rate. That’s compared to 62.7 percent during Memorial Day weekend, 63.9 percent during the Fourth of July, and 63.7 percent during Fiesta.

“Businesses need to adapt to it,” he said of the change to Friday night. “There’s no reason businesses can’t thrive by thinking outside the box.”

The Kiwanis Club distributed a press release late Monday, saying Sandoval and Bushee have pledged to work together to make the event profitable for local businesses and to ensure everyone who attends the event gets from the park to their homes safely and “in an organized and orderly fashion.”

“Our first step is to bring all stakeholders and the community together to begin this discussion in earnest” Bushee said in the release.

To that end, the city has scheduled a special meeting of its Business and Quality of Life Committee for Wednesday, at which a public hearing will be held to discuss the economic and community impacts of Zozobra. Also up for discussion is “review of the event permit application.”

“I am ready to listen, learn and help solve some of the legitimate issues that our Merchants have with the event,” Sandoval said in the release, “but I am unwilling to discuss permitting requirements that single out Zozobra, or require the Kiwanis club to do anything above what other major events in the city are held to.”

The meeting is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday in the city council chambers.