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Zozobra changes discussed at public hearing

SANTA FE – Moving Zozobra’s burning back to Fiesta weekend, keeping the Plaza open afterward and finding a place for post-burning celebrating were discussed at a two-hour public hearing Wednesday.

No action was taken by the city Business and Quality of Life Committee, which set the hearing after business owners expressed concern that this year’s change to a Friday burning will mean rowdy crowds on the Plaza.

The event, in its 90th year, has been held on Thursdays at Fort Marcy Park since 1999. The previous year, a fatal shooting took place amid a huge crowd that spilled onto the Plaza after a Friday night burning. Also, Zozobra has for decades been attached to Fiesta, held since the 1970s on the weekend after Labor Day.

But for 2014, the Kiwanis Club, which stages the ritual, got a permit to move Zozobra to Aug. 29, the Friday of Labor Day weekend, to make the event more accessible to families and school children and attract visitors on a long holiday weekend.

The event had to go back to Fridays because it was going bankrupt, said Ray Sandoval, the event organizer. He also said police believe no after-burn entertainment is better from a public safety perspective.

That’s unfortunate because you have “the adrenalized crowd – moments after the event is over – turned loose on the community,” said the committee’s Miles Conway. Without a way to keep the party going, you have “hordes descending on the Inn of the Anasazi trying to get a dance with the bride.” The hotel just off the Plaza came up because of problems guests had attending a wedding. That kind of glitch can be worked out, Sandoval said.

He said the Plaza will be closed post-Zozobra this year. Prior to the 1998 shooting, there were food booths and entertainment on the Plaza following Old Man Gloom’s demise.

Several representatives of hotels and restaurants spoke up. Closing the Plaza is a barrier to guests, said John Rickey of La Fonda. He also said thousands of people coming downtown “can be quite shocking” to “unsuspecting guests.”

Kiwanis member Scott Wiseman complained business owners think “there might be pandemonium on the Plaza and they didn’t want to do business with ‘those types of people,'” he said, meaning everyday Santa Feans. Customers pay “the same amount regardless of who they are,” said Wiseman, a comment that drew applause.

“Our business has enjoyed Zozobra,” said Sam Gerberding of El Charro restaurant and The Inn of the Governors. “It can be a manageable situation.” He said his hotel educates guests about “the opportunity to mingle with the locals.” But he also raised the idea of holding Zozobra at the Downs of Santa Fe, south of town.

“I’m for the whole Plaza being open,” said James Campbell Caruso, who owns La Boca and Taberna la Boca restaurants. “We would prefer to stay open and we still might,” but things like road closures make it difficult, he said. He also said not having Zozobra and Fiesta on the same weekend “does not benefit the local tradition.”

Trying a Friday burning this year will provide information on how things can work, said City Councilor Ron Trujillo. He spoke out against comments perceived as divisive. “I do not want to pit tourists versus locals,” he said. City Councilor Peter Ives suggested the convention center for post-Zozobra activities.