The Ypsilanti City Council approved two sponsorships for the 2019 Heritage Festival during the June 2 council meeting despite some council members having concerns with the festival's policy that excludes youth.
The festival, held Aug. 23-25 at Riverside Park, offers a variety of activities and entertainment including helicopter rides, live music and a classic car show.
According to Scott Heddle, director of the Heritage Festival board, a sponsorship for the amount of $2,500 would cover the travel expenses of a group coming from the Republic of Togo and the Republic of Benin.
“We have some local politicians from those countries, and we have some entertainers and performers and musicians coming from there as well,” Heddle said. “One of the things we would like to do is cover their expenses (hotel, transportation, etc) with the generous donation from council.”
The second sponsorship, for the amount of $3,000, is a more general sponsorship that would help cover additional fees from the festival.
The resolution for the $2,500 sponsorship passed with a 4-2 vote. After some hesitation from council member Anthony Morgan and Mayor Beth Bashert, the $3,000 sponsorship resolution passed with a 5-1 vote.
The hesitation was largely due to the festival’s policy that prevents youth from attending the event unless accompanied by an adult. The policy was implemented in 2015 after several fights broke out at the event in years past.
The decision to require chaperones for youth ultimately came as a measure to cut costs by reducing the amount of police needed at the event.
Police presence is proven to be the biggest deterrent to crime or bad behavior, according to Heddle. However, it is not currently an option because of costs.
Heddle said increasing attendance to the event, which could lead to more sponsors and vendors, is his main focus in hopes to increase funding for police or security.
“(The youth chaperone policy) appears to be effective right now because we’ve had much less incidents of things going on, but we’ve also had way less people and it’s been a way less desirable place to be,” Heddle said. “What I want to do, which I’m committed to do, is bringing (the festival) back to it’s heyday in terms of the numbers of people who attend.
“We are expanding outside of simply the heritage portion of that into a much broader festival to highlight many of the other things that are going on in the community.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Lois Richardson, the only council member to vote no on both resolutions, was adamant about not supporting an event that excludes the community’s youth.
“For me and people last year on council, it was a real issue that you’re blocking out youth,” Richardson said. “To block out all youth, that says all of our youth are bad, and that is not true. I will stand up and defend our youth until I have no breath left because all of our youth are not bad.”
Bashert’s final remarks after the sponsorship's were approved implied that the city might not sponsor the festival next year unless changes are made.
“Speaking for council, I think we’ve lost patience about the youth not being involved and not being invited,” Bashert said. “If you would like our sponsorship to continue in the future; I think if you came back next year without youth (included) you would find the conversation even harder and probably not with a good outcome.”
For more information on this year's Heritage Festival, which is free to the public, visit http://ypsifest.com/.