Cost of COVID: Cherry Blossom’s pinkest party pandemic-style

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Liz Fabian

Poplar Street will host an outdoor black-tie Fiesta Ball March 19 as the Cherry Blossom Festival moves all its activities outdoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A nervous downtown business owner recently questioned the mayor about the return of the Cherry Blossom Festival after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 event.

“Last year, we lost our shirts as we prepared for Cherry Blossom… lost a bunch of money,” the shop owner said. “A lot of us are very hesitant to spend money. … Any chances of an ordinance coming down that cancels anything? … It’s a scary time for us in business.”

Mayor Lester Miller was adamant: “Absolutely no chance I’m going to cancel the Cherry Blossom Festival,” he answered. “We can’t afford another year without Cherry Blossom.”

Miller explained that the festival staff has spent the past year strategizing and planning the pinkest party on earth pandemic-style.

“Buy your shirts, buy your pins because it will happen this year,” Miller emphasized during the February meeting of the Downtown Macon Community Association.

Cherry Blossom Festival CEO Stacy Moore met with the Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful board and Visit Macon on Thursday to go over details of events planned between March 19-28.

The website proudly proclaims: “The Cherry Blossom Festival is on.”

“We are only producing outdoor events,” Moore told Visit Macon. “We’re not going to produce ourselves or sanction any indoor events.”

People crowded together under blooming cherry trees in Third Street Park during the 2019 Food Truck Frenzy. Some 2021 Cherry Blossom events will be for a virtual audience only due to the pandemic. (Jenna Eason/The Telegraph)

But that doesn’t mean you will be shoulder to shoulder for popular opening weekend festivities on Cherry Street. Only the participants will be present on March 20th for the Bed Race and Wiener Dog Race. The competitions will be held virtually and livestreamed through media sponsor WGXA-TV.

No one will be lining the sidewalks for the March 21st Cherry Blossom Parade which will be livestreamed and later broadcast by 41NBC, WMGT television, according to the festival website.

“We’re basically modeling off of what Macy’s did for the Thanksgiving Day Parade,” Moore said Friday.

The route will be shorter as the parade will come up Cherry Street and turn at Second Street before looping back Mulberry.

The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office will staff the road closures for the spectator-less event. Moore doesn’t anticipate having problems with people gathering based on what she learned from the Macy’s parade.

“They told us everybody was very understanding,” Moore said. “I hope people are respectful of the virtual rules. We’re trying to still have it in a way that people can participate.”

Loft residents will be able to still watch from the windows.

No street party is planned but there will still be dancing in the street as the Fiesta Ball honoring Mexico on March 19 is going al fresco.  The black-tie event is being held outside on Poplar Street from 7-11 p.m.

“We think it will be a really fun night. Something that will be very different,” Moore said.

When purchasing tickets on the website you see the following disclaimer: “We have moved all of our events outdoors to ensure proper spacing for social distancing. CDC safety guidelines as well as executive orders from Macon-Bibb County will be followed.”

That means the line in Third Street Park for free ice cream, donuts and Coca-Cola will be longer as guests will be required to socially distance.

Tables for six at Pasta on Poplar will “be suitable to accommodate for social distancing” on March 26, the website stated.

That event was shifted to the second weekend of the festival to accommodate the ball the week before, Moore said.

Also on the closing weekend, the Mulberry Street Arts and Crafts festival will return after last year’s hiatus due to the new coronavirus.

Food Truck Frenzy on the second Saturday will be more spaced out as trucks line up on Third Street from Mulberry to Cherry and from Third Street to MLK Jr. Boulevard on Cherry. Instead of the long harvest-type tables, seating will be scattered on the street.

The campus of Middle Georgia State University allows for families to spread out on the lawn for the Tunes & Balloons Festival Finale that finishes with fireworks on March 28.

Throughout the 10-days, Carolyn Crayton Park will host amusement rides and a whole slate of tribute bands performing nightly, plus Lonestar on March 27. To keep guests from passing each other, park entryways will be marked for those coming in and an exit-only gate will be enforced.

Temperature checks will prevent anyone registering over 100.4 degrees from entering the park.

Rides will be disinfected with a fogging device administering KOC-86 that kills germs on contact and protects surfaces up to four days. Everyone will be required to wear masks except when eating or drinking.

Restrooms will be regularly cleaned and disinfected and guests can bring their own chairs to limit points of touch for possible exposure.

To allay any concerns on behalf of the county, Moore said she showed the mayor photographs of James H. Drew Exposition’s COVID-19 protection policies that enabled them to hold a fair last year.

“The midway provider has done a really good job of preparing,” Moore said.

The festival did cancel a big circus show to better accommodate social distancing in the park layout. A Jurassic Kingdom Dinosaur Show will perform three shows daily at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. and the Aquatic Acrobats shows will be at 2, 4, and 6 p.m. each day.

“Now we just need good weather and for the trees to bloom,” Moore said.

Visit Macon’s director of tourism and leisure travel, Steven Fulbright, predicts a great spring with a resurgence of tourism kicked off by the Cherry Blossom Festival.

“It’s going to be amazing. I’m so impressed by what her team has been able to come up with during this whole pandemic,” Fulbright said.

Although the Magnolia Soap Box Derby and the Hay House Spring Stroll have already canceled for 2021, the Macon Arts Alliance Fired Works pottery show is scheduled April 9-17 at the Round Building at Central City Park and the Pan African Festival is moving forward with plans through the Tubman African American Museum, Fulbright said.

He booked a “gazillion tours” the last couple of weeks, he said.

“We are starting to see an increase in awareness that people are starting to travel. … Research shows people who have been vaccinated are really wanting to get out of their house.”

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]