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National Night Out moves to West Hyattsville: August event to feature world music, crafts

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Posted on: July 8, 2013

BY SUSIE CURRIE — The city’s National Night Out Against Crime, scheduled for August 6, moves to Queens Chapel Town Center this year from Magruder Park. It will be the major city-sponsored event in West Hyattsville, replacing last year’s Handmade on Hamilton.

National Night Out, held annually on the first Tuesday evening in August, is designed to strengthen police-community ties and promote Neighborhood Watch groups and other public-safety strategies.  More than 15,000 communities participate nationwide, according to the group’s website, www.natw.org.

Hyattsville’s event is scheduled for 5 to 9 p.m. along Hamilton Street between Ager and Queens Chapel roads. Afterwards, a Take Back the Night walk will wind through neighborhood streets.

The issue of what sort of event to hold in the area – which until two years ago hosted an International Street Festival – has been controversial this year. In May, as part of a budget-cutting plan, Community Services Director Abby Sandel proposed replacing last year’s $46,000 Handmade on Hamilton with three outdoor movie nights in West Hyattsville. At $4,500 for the series, this would have represented a savings of about 90 percent.

“People come out in droves for movies at that location,” Sandel told the city council at its May 22 meeting. “It’s by far the most popular place in the city for screenings.”

But some councilmembers, particularly Edouard Haba (Ward 4) and Joseph Solomon (Ward 5), wanted the International Street Festival revived, too. The festival “would bring people together and highlight the diversity” of the area, said Haba, who repeatedly brought the matter before his colleagues at subsequent meetings.

Last held in 2010, the late-September event had become a tradition in West Hyattsville. Performers demonstrated Japanese, Bolivian and Indian dance and played a variety of world music. The entertainment ran all afternoon, ending with what used to be the city’s only annual fireworks display.

But in 2011, the city’s 125th anniversary party was held that weekend instead, at the Arcade Building. In 2012, November’s Handmade on Hamilton, which showcased local and regional artists, drew sparse crowds to West Hyattsville.

“The Arts District is on the east side of the city, not the west side,” said longtime resident David Marshall. “Sure, we like arts on the west side, but it’s not our primary concern.”

City officials blamed the low turnout on blustery weather and a lack of corporate sponsors. National Night Out, now in its 30th year, has neither of those problems, Sandel said at the June 6 meeting. Since the plan to replace a street festival with a movie series had not been well-received by the area’s council representatives, she proposed moving the already-scheduled festival across town.

She also pointed out that since National Night Out specifically targets crime, it makes sense to move it to an area whose crime rates are among the highest in the city. Queens Chapel Town Center is in Ward 5, near the Ward 4 boundary. In 2012, those two wards accounted for nearly 70 percent of crime in the city, according to the Hyattsville Police Department’s annual statistics.

Another plus, she said, is that closing the street on a Tuesday rather than a Saturday  “significantly reduces the overtime costs” for police officers and public-works employees staffing the festival. Businesses there, too, would be impacted less by blocking off a street on a weekday rather than a weekend.

Commuters, though, may be more affected.

“It’s like nobody in this building understands what life is like on the west side of the city, because you want to close off a major thoroughfare to a Metro station on a business day,” said Marshall, adding that car, bus and foot traffic would be disrupted.

Bringing back the International Street Festival, Sandel said, would be cost-prohibitive. Mayor Marc Tartaro had asked all department heads to trim their budgets by at least 10 percent, since the city is facing a shortfall in fiscal year 2014.

As a compromise, Haba and Solomon suggested merging the two events. So this year’s National Night Out may have a different flavor than the ones at Magruder Park.

As in past years, there will be Arrow Bicycle’s obstacle course (with free helmets to the first 75 kids to stop by who need one), Mandy the Clown, moon bounces, police agencies, and corporate sponsors, including Target.

But there will also be international-themed crafts and entertainment. Some of the International Street Festival performers have already been booked, including the Positive Vibrations Youth Steel Orchestra. The Brazilian percussion band Bloco Afro Samba Trovão is also scheduled to perform.

Shani Warner (Ward 2) saw the changes as “a way to keep the International Festival alive … [in a way] that we could afford” in a time of budget cuts.

“I think this combined event has great potential,” she added.

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