SOUTHPORT –– After Covid-19 caused several summer Southport traditions to cancel last year, many are expected to take place once again in the coming months. However, any events held will be on a much smaller scale, constricted to the Fort Johnston Garrison Lawn, the city’s mayor Joseph Hatem announced Monday.
Consequently, plans for this year’s N.C. 4th of July Festival are up in the air. Annually, the city’s hallmark event stretches across multiple streets and utilizes several parks in Southport, but those parks are remaining closed through at least early September, according to the mayor.
In a normal year, the festival and accompanying parade would attract more than 60,000 visitors to Brunswick County, boosting the local economy with tourist dollars as they book short-term rentals, dine out and shop Market Street.
Fishy Fishy Cafe in Southport isn’t too concerned about any financial loss from the festival, though. Since reopening outdoor seating, spring breakers are filling the tables and the waterfront restaurant is well ahead of its 2019 sales, manager Brittany Chirico said.
“We’re already way busier now than we’ve ever been before,” Chirico said. “So I just feel like this trend is going to continue, regardless of the Fourth of July festival. I still think there’s gonna be a ton of people in town, and I’m still hopeful that we will make the same sales that we did in years previous.”
With just months until Independence Day, the festival committee is working on a contingency plan to abide by the Covid-19 regulations. It’s unclear whether gathering limitations will still be in effect come July. Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday he is releasing plans next week for easing restrictions in North Carolina by summer.
Festival organizers said the group is convening next week after it receives clarity on the recent announcement regarding extended city closures. It intends on releasing a “modified calendar” of celebrations thereafter.
Per the city’s announcement, Southport is following the guidance of the governor and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services “to create a safe environment for all citizens and visitors.”
Southport was one of the first cities in the state to cancel its Independence Day plans last year. The mayor, who is also the head doctor in the Dosher Memorial Hospital emergency room, called off the red-white-and-blue festival three months in advance. Although some criticized the seemingly early move, statewide mass gathering limits were in place and are still in effect today.
It was believed to be the first time in 225 years the event was not held in person. Instead, the organizers put together virtual programs on social media.
In a press release, the city stated it developed a “safe plan” to hold the Southport Summer Market, the summer concert series and the Southport Plein Air Festival with limited attendees on the Garrison Lawn, located between the Southport Visitors’ Center and Bay Street. The 4th of July Festival is run by a not-for-profit organization, although it is co-sponsored by the city.
“A safe framework has been developed to work within [Garrison Lawn] on a trial basis, and the city looks forward to working closely with all local civic organizations to plan events accordingly,” Lisa Anderson, assistant director of communications with the city, wrote in an email.
The city stated it would not host “festivals, parades, and mass gatherings.” As of Mar. 26, venues in North Carolina may open at half occupancy or allow 12 guests per 1,000 square feet, with folks spaced at least 6-feet apart.
Southport is intending on resuming larger events after Labor Day. According to the city, plans are moving forward for the Wooden Boat Show, annually held in November, and the Winterfest events in December.
Franklin Square Park, Waterfront Park and the Southport Community Building, a part-time wedding venue, are expected to reopen this September for events, barring any setbacks in slowing the viral spread.
“The success of this initiative is dependent upon all Southport residents, businesses and visitors doing their part to adhere to the necessary health safety guidelines,” mayor Hatem said in a statement. “Wear a mask, maintain social distancing and practice good hand hygiene. To protect the health of our community, whether personal, environmental or economic, is the cornerstone of how we move forward.”
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