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Canton second guesses proposed Labor Day changes

Canton will continue researching recommended changes to the town’s Labor Day celebration despite several aldermen expressing reservations about changing the venue and recruiting a national headlining band for a Sunday night concert.

After mulling over proposed changes presented at a recent workshop, the aldermen said they heard from several concerned constituents who weren’t in favor of the recommended changes.

Alderman Ralph Hamlett asked if local churches had been asked whether a Sunday night concert at Pisgah High’s stadium would interfere with Sunday night services.

Alderman Carole Edwards said her church typically didn’t have Sunday night services on a holiday weekend, but she would still like to make sure the churches don’t have a problem with it.

Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss said the town would be happy to poll local churches.

“We don’t want to disenfranchise anyone,” he said. “That’s why we’re trying to include religious services by starting (festivities) later on Sunday and by having gospel music.”

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Edwards also said constituents were concerned about moving the music and vendors downtown. They would rather stay at the rec park where the amenities are already in place — a covered stage and dance area, seating, restrooms, electricity and water.

“I know some people want to mirror the success of Materfest, but this is a different kind of event,” she said. “I’ve got mixed feelings about it.”

Mayor Mike Ray echoed Edwards’ concerns, adding that the rec park also had the swimming pool and playground for children. Moving it downtown would mean the town would have to spend money to get amenities to Sorrells Street Park. Instead of shortening Labor Day festivities to Sunday and Monday, he suggested having Labor Day festivities for three days and the concert could be moved to Saturday night.

However, Hendler-Voss told the board at the workshop that the town could get a lower price for a Sunday show if a band was already coming through the area for a Saturday show.

Alderman Zeb Smathers said moving it downtown would create more traffic and revenue for downtown businesses just like Materfest did. While he has concerns too about the additional costs and eliminating mechanical rides, he said the board needed to be willing to take some chances.

“We will succeed and we will fail, but we shouldn’t be afraid of trying,” he said.

Hamlett was willing to move forward in the exploratory phase to allow staff to pursue a band and nail down a cost, sponsorships and booking the stadium.

“With any risk there are benefits if done correctly,” he said. “I would support authorizing staff to continue and bring recommendations back to us.”

“I’m not afraid of anything,” Edwards said. “… I just don’t want to be in a position to pay all that money we don’t have if it doesn’t work out.”

Hendler-Voss said a motion to move forward would only mean the staff continues working out specifics, but the final contracts and decisions would have to come back to the board for a final vote.

Hamlett’s motion to proceed passed unanimously. Hamlett also said community members were invited to share their opinions about the changes at the next board meeting, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26, at town hall.

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