The project to add a covering over the stage at the Judicial Center Plaza is getting closer to becoming a reality. But with that improvement comes the possibility of changes in the way the plaza could be reserved by groups for usage.
At a meeting on Thursday by the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA), CEO Chris Girdler said that because bids on the project were more costly than expected, the decision was made to scale back the project, resulting in receiving one bid that was "very doable."
"However, we're not ready to execute just yet," Girdler said. He was waiting on final renderings from Deco Architects to be able to show what the contractors are proposing for the stage.
Girdler said that he hoped that within two weeks to have the final project proposal plus a confirmed business commitment for naming rights to the stage.
The plan is to have to new covering ready by spring of next year, in time for the April Somernites Cruise.
"We're very excited about this opportunity, partnering with everybody on our downtown revitalization efforts, to continue to show and demonstrate that arts and culture is a big part of economic development," Girdler said.
From there, however, Girdler transitioned over to discussing the possible formation of a committee that would be in charge of scheduling events.
"[Deputy Judge-Executive Dan Price] and I talked a little bit about this," Girdler said, adding that the purpose would be to take that responsibility off of County Judge-Executive Steve Kelley's plate, as well as to look at implementing fees and guidelines for organizations who wish to use the plaza.
One of those ideas would be to implement a clean-up fee, maybe of $100.
Price, who was in attendance at the meeting, explained the reasoning. "Come Sunday or come Monday morning, if they're not good stewards of cleaning up - sometimes they're not - it becomes a problem for the business community.
"… We do have flexible staff that looks at that on Sundays, but that's also a good idea to include, as far as taking the space, either a $100 cleanup fee or something, because someone has to pay someone to do that."
Kelley, a member of the SPEDA board, said that he would like to see a committee installed.
"I would probably prefer that, because after last month's events, we've already got it booked all next year. People trying to pre-empt that happening again, so they've booked it all year long."
The "last month's events" referred to the Chill Out and Proud festival that took place on the first Saturday in October. While the event took place on the Plaza, numerous protesters filled in surrounding areas.
On Friday, Kelley clarified his comments, saying, "Not every date is booked, but there are several churches which have booked it for gospel singing events."
He added, "I would like to see a committee formed sooner than later as the plaza seems to be growing in popularity for events and festivals."
It is unclear whether, if the committee is formed in 2020, it would have authority or oversight on events that have already been booked for next year.