Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella’s vision of a baseball diamond that would conjure back Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the 1919 Black Sox in the film “Field of Dreams” has become something of a cliché in our culture.

“Build it, and they will come.”

Nothing could more accurately describe the Harry Potter Festival, which kicks off this Friday evening and runs throughout Saturday. The Chestnut Hill Business District has built it, and the people have come. Some 45,000 of them came to Chestnut Hill last year.

As many recall, last year’s festival was not without out its distinct set of growing pains – a festival that had seemed to finally reach a tipping point. Or perhaps, more accurately, a bursting point. In a neighborhood that has just about 10,000 people, adding more than four times that number to Germantown Avenue is a big ask.

Last year, Sheila Allen Avelin, owner of the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Mt. Airy, spoke to the Local about her experience at the festival.

“There wasn’t enough of anything,” she said. “Not enough vendors, not enough food trucks, not enough porta potties, not enough Harry Potter merchandise at the participating brick-and-mortars. It definitely seems to have grown too fast.”

The Business District heard her (and many other) complaints and put an enormous amount of effort into making sure that it could, above all else, handle a large crowd. It held meetings with business owners, the police department, residents and other experts. It thinks it’ll have it under control this year.

“Following last year’s event, we received feedback from residents, near neighbors, and visitors,” said Martha Sharkey, executive director of the Business District, in a story we published several weeks ago. “We took the feedback very seriously and have been working to create an improved experience this year. Additional police presence for traffic and crowd control, more portable restrooms, and several off-site parking locations have been secured.”

That plan includes satellite parking with shuttle buses and police checkpoints to restrict vehicular access to Hill residents and others with pre-approved business parking permits. The idea is to make sure the festival isn’t further pressured by what I’d call casuals – people who want to take advantage of a nice day to go see what all the Harry Potter commotion is about.

The daylong festival will, no doubt, be a pain for residents and others who own businesses in Chestnut Hill or work here. The trade-off is that the Potter Festival, more than any other event in Chestnut Hill, really puts the neighborhood on the map. When people think of Chestnut Hill, they think Harry Potter Festival.

With a little luck and all the deliberate planning that the business district has put into the festival, the entire weekend should be much more palatable to both residents and festival attendees. Let’s hope it does for the sake of the neighborhood.

Pete Mazzaccaro

 

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