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City officials urge patience for event

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Just park elsewhere.

That’s what city and chamber officials are telling merchants and shoppers as the city prepares to close off two blocks of Washington Street in downtown Watertown most of Tuesday to accommodate the Fireball Run Adventurerally.

The street from the Roswell P. Flower statue to Sterling Street will be closed from noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Businesses will stay open for regular hours despite parking inconveniences for their customers.

Event organizers from the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce — who persuaded city officials this summer to host the rally on Washington Street instead of moving it somewhere else — are encouraging shoppers that day to park at the J.B. Wise or Stone Street lots. Although the event begins at noon that day, city police will block off parking spaces along the two-block area at about 6 a.m. so organizers can prepare for the event, which will feature performances and live entertainment.

Kylie S. Peck, director of membership development , said we “encourage people to be patient with traffic and understanding it’s a big event.I would say come down in the morning if you have things to be taken care of.”

Stone Street — a one-way street north of the Roswell P. Flower statue — will be open to traffic throughout the day, allowing employees and customers access to parking lots behind the Key Bank and Community Bank buildings. Buildings south of the statue in the blocked-off area, including Flower Memorial Library, will not have parking access during the day.

City police department Sgt. Cheryl A. Clark said more specific parking and detour plans will be ironed out this morning, as police are holding a meeting with officials from the Department of Public Works.

Not everyone is pleased with how the chamber and city have dealt with the parking concerns for the event. City Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr., a financial adviser at Community Bank, voiced his concerns at a council meeting Monday night. He said neither the chamber nor city has made a public announcement regarding parking plans until now — less than a week before the rally.

“I don’t know if the message has gotten out there,” he said Tuesday. “I want to make sure people are well aware in advance of the situation so we can let our customers and clients know that particular day is going to be a lot different than others. Everyone wants to make sure this comes off as a good day for Watertown, the economy and tourism. But we’re concerned about the safety of our citizens and the business impact.”

Mr. Butler was among a group of city officials who initially opposed the plan to host the event on Washington Street. Then-interim City Manager John C. Krol sent a letter to the chamber in May stating the city wouldn’t allow the event to be hosted there, suggesting the J.B. Wise parking lot as a viable alternative. But after city officials learned the event would be in Sackets Harbor if it couldn’t be located downtown, they changed their minds in June.

“I asked questions about what other options were on the table in terms of where they could position the event, and a lot of people offered other venues, including the chamber,” Mr. Butler said. “But the folks that were doing the actual production were hung up on making sure it was in downtown Watertown because of its historical value.”

Mr. Butler said he now supports the event but wants to “make sure a nice execution plan is carried out and we address business on that day.”

Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham, who said the city’s staff fully supports the chamber’s plan to host the rally on Washington Street, is optimistic that any logistical concerns businesses have will be solved.

“Certainly the opportunity to host events that showcase the community, give us national exposure and welcome people to town is a great thing,” he said. “Our job is make the accommodations necessary, and I’m not part of the constituency who wants to buy a doughnut and fix the hole. Logistical issues can be worked out.”

The 2,500-mile, eight-destination tour will run from Friday to Sept. 29.

For more information about the Fireball Run, visit http://www.fireballrun.com.

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