Chapel Hill eyes less thrill for Chill

Staff WriterSeptember 8, 2007 

— Apple Chill is dead. Long live ... some kind of Earth Day event atop the town's Wallace parking deck?

A year after the Town Council ended the annual street fair, the town's parks and recreation director wants to start a new, smaller spring festival.

Holding an event on top of the East Rosemary Street deck would prevent having to close the streets, Director Butch Kisiah said Friday. Three nonfatal shootings led to Apple Chill's demise, but residents and merchants had long complained the festival tied up traffic.

Local activist Tom Jensen had asked the town to offer another springtime event.

He said Friday that he was hoping for something a little bigger but that the Wallace Deck sounded good to him.

"If downtown businesses think [another street fair] would be more of a pain than a positive, I certainly trust their instincts," he said. "It's not a place you would automatically think of, but it is a perfectly good place to do something like that."

Kisiah said the top of the Wallace Deck, which is landscaped with some shade, was designed for public gatherings.

"I thought, let's give it a try," he said.

Liz Parham, the executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, likes tying the event to Earth Day, which she said reflects Chapel Hill's values.

But she's not sold on celebrating the Earth on top of a parking deck.

"That's an interesting location to do it," she said. "McCorkle Place [on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus], I think you would feel the connection to downtown better."

Kisiah plans to present his idea to the Town Council on Monday.

In addition to a new spring festival, he wants to continue the summer concert series the town started this year. The four concerts held in various locations drew a couple of hundred people each, he said.

In a memo, he said he plans to report back to the council in January with details and a cost estimate.

Apple Chill, which was 35 years old, cost an estimated $135,000 in 2006. In recent years the unofficial "AfterChill" car and motorcycle gathering that followed it had swelled, clogging streets and sometimes erupting in violence.

After three people were shot in 2006, the council considered ending all street events, including the Halloween celebration that attracts 50,000 people. The council eventually decided to keep that celebration, as well as the Festifall street fair, which takes place Oct. 7 this year.

Staff writer Mark Schultz can be reached at 932-2003 or mark.schultz@newsobserver.com.

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