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Short North Deals with ComFest Rowdiness

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Short North Deals with ComFest RowdinessPhoto via Josh Quinn.
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ComFest has been a Columbus tradition for more than 40 years, but organizers are still trying to distance the event from its reputation for rowdiness. Connie Everett, an organizer and media spokesperson for ComFest, said that for the last few years organizers have been concerned about the size of the annual event in Goodale Park, as well as the attendance of people who don’t share the same peaceful attitude the festival promotes.

“We are doing a lot to discourage people with bad behavior,” said Everett. “We’ve… taken every measure that we can think of and we’re always thinking of more.”

Everett says the organizers don’t want to leave Goodale Park, where the festival has primarily been held since 1972. In order to keep the festival peaceful, Everett says that organizers have tried to keep the focus on purpose-driven programming in order to attract a preferred segment of the public.

“I think there’s less for the rowdy folks to do,” said Everett. “There’s more for families and people who want to learn about their community and current issues to do.”

Residents and business owners in the Short North like Josh Quinn, who owns Tigertree on the 700 block of High Street, appreciate the local and cultural focus of ComFest.

“I think the fact that we have a completely organic music festival that features some of the best talent from Columbus on multiple stages in our city’s best park is great,” said Quinn in an email.

Even so, Quinn believes businesses in the neighborhood suffer when ComFest comes around every year. Quinn said that while it’s hard to measure the rowdiness of the festival, its impact on the surrounding neighborhood appears to have gotten worse in recent years.

“This year we had two businesses on one block lose storefront windows and one lose a door in just one night,” said Quinn. “I…personally had a guy pass out on my front porch and threaten my wife and I when I tried to move him on.”

Quinn also pointed out that ComFest is part of a string of summer events, including Columbus Pride and Red, White and Boom, which present significant challenges to local businesses.

“There is a bit of a misperception that more traffic equates to more business,” said Quinn. “But with local niche-focused retailers and restaurants that isn’t actually the case.”

Despite these issues, ComFest remains popular in the Short North. Jeff Smith of the Short North Civic Association called the festival a “valuable community partner” and said the majority of the neighborhood supports and enjoys the event.

“We appreciate the steps they have taken over the years to mitigate the impact on the neighborhood,” said Smith in an email.

Betsy Pandora of the Short North Alliance had similar praise for ComFest.

“While festivals and events present challenges for the communities that house them,” said Pandora in an email, “they contribute to the vitality and culture of Columbus as a whole and specifically to the Short North Arts District.”

Pandora also complimented ComFest organizers on consistently restoring Goodale Park to its pre-festival condition, but acknowledged the harmful impact the festival can have on its host neighborhood.

“While I think all involved can do a better job of helping to manage parking and what visitors do when they leave the event,” said Pandora, “I think we’re still far from breaching the capacity of the park to house ComFest.”

Quinn does not dislike ComFest and added that it “would be a loss for our community to move that energy elsewhere.” Still, he hopes more attention will be paid to the businesses and residences of the area so that the festival’s negative impacts can be minimized.

“That isn’t an attack on ComFest,” said Quinn. “It’s just the reality of putting that many people…in one place, especially when substances are involved.”

For ongoing discussion on ComFest, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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  • callipygia

    I live in Victorian Village and have attended Comfest for years, and it’s true that the crowd has gotten rougher in the past few years. This started happening once Comfest separated from Pride weekend. Quite frankly, I think that some of the people who are attracted to Comfest for the wrong reasons, and misinterpret it as a place to indulge in bad behavior with impunity, are people who were put off by the festival’s association with Pride. I love both Pride weekend and Comfest, but it was much to the benefit of Comfest when the two events were combined, since Pride does credit to the true spirit of Comfest.

  • I’d agree it should stay if I still believed it was a ‘Community Festival.’ Most of the Short North residents I know do not attend any longer. Too much debauchery and not enough community. It seems more people come from Newark than Victorian Village.

  • Why not just kill the beer/wine tents; and all of the carny food too? Get rid of the alcohol and see if people are still coming to enjoy their favorite bands and learn more about local causes. I’d bet dollars to donuts this would have a significant impact. Just call me captain killjoy but if you want this to be about the community then have legit food trucks instead of the hodgepodge of a couple local (but generally not actual Short North) restaurant tents + fair-food vendors from god knows where and instead have only locally run, independent food trucks on the site and then if people want to have drinks they can go to one of the Short North bars and come and go from Goodale Park as they choose to see bands, etc. During all of that coming and going maybe they’ll actually stop in to some of the stores as well, like Tigertree?

    • I’m pretty sure ComFest makes most of its money through beer/wine sales.

  • After 7 years of living in Columbus, I’ve seen this festival become more antagonizing and less enjoyable each and every year. Property damage, trash, rude and disorderly people… better suited for a civic center than an urban neighborhood. Its not a lack of love for the festival… just recognition that it may have outgrown its location. Seven years ago we didn’t have the civic infrastructure we now have downtown… and a lengthy waterfront perfectly suited for this kind of event. And I’d disagree with the assessment that most people that live and work in the short north want it to stay in the short north… actually the opposite.

  • DexRider

    I think it’s time for ComFest to evolve. Or rather, revolve. If it’s REALLY about community, then perhaps it can exist in other communities than just the Short North. We have lots of vibrant community parks that would welcome the business that ComFest can provide and I know of several great local parks that could handle the festival. Let’s move it to different spots each year and see if the evolution can assist with tampering down the wrongful behavior.

  • BadJournalism

    Really, blaming things that happened 5 1/2 hours AFTER the festival closed on Comfest.

    More likely one of the ridiculously drunk bar patrons that darken our doorsteps every night.

    The Short North has outgrown the Short North.

  • Sethgc

    I think a more honest title would be “The Short North and Comfest deal with people with drinking problems”.

    I have attended the festival the last 10 years and have enjoyed it every time. Most folks I know who live in VV as I do enjoy it as well. I think the 3 weekends in a row of Pride/Comfest/RW&B can lead to some ‘festival fatigue’ for sure, though..
    I do think it would be a great loss were Comfest to move to somewhere else.

  • Jason Powell

    For 10+/- years now, I have missed only a few days of Comfest. I typically have gone out after for drinks and dinner in the Short North. To be honest, I have not seen much change in the park. If the Short North has become a little more raucous, then it’s because the Short North has become a more popular destination for the younger crowd with more bar options, not because of Comfest. It’s this way almost every weekend now. It’s slowly becoming a bar district. This event has NOT outgrown the park. I would have to disagree with the notion that most people in the neighborhood do not care for it anymore, at least from the perspective of those I lived around when living there. Sure, the festival is a traffic nightmare, a parking nightmare and an attraction for some of “Columbus’ finest”, but if we felt the same way about every one of our large, regionally recognized festivals, we would have none of them adding to the vibrancy of our urban core. Or, they could all be moved to the fairgrounds (Oktoberfest *sigh*) Also, as much as I like festivals by the waterfront, I do want ALL of them by the waterfront. Having them in different locations makes them unique.

    I like the idea of getting rid of those cheap carnival food options and replacing them with food trucks. If it is about community, then locally sourced/prepared food should be showcased. Also, I would like to see the festival promote green living and sustainability more. One solar tent doesn’t quite cut it. As for the drug use, well, the festival pretty much promotes it by advocating for the legalization of weed and allowing several vendors to sell paraphernalia used for taking or storing drugs.

    In summary, the festival is free, with tons of free music, cheap food, cheap beer, somewhat drug friendly with a lack of focus on local sustainable living. Keep that formula and your audience will not change.

  • So, people who want Comfest to move *and* actually live around the Short North area, raise your hand please.

    :oh hello my hand, I see you are not raising yourself and staying on the keyboard:

    Comfest is great. If you have issues with Comfest and want to see it better? Lean in and help out. Or, kindly… mind your own business. So, the beer isn’t going anywhere. Why? Because it’s the one time of the year we get to enjoy beers in the park with friends and music. Just. Just stop. Just stop with that. Oh plus uhm it does the majority of the fundraising for the event. Money, it helps.

    I see this as a policing issue. Just put extra foot/bike/horse patrols in the greater 1-2mi range, let _everyone_ know they’re there and make sure that response time is amazing. We’re talking about vandals and public intoxication, right? I guess when you’ve been robbed at gunpoint in the Short North, you feel differently about the weight of these crimes?

    As for the local food trucks, they are engaging them, but food cards didn’t really exist in Columbus until about 4 years ago when the latino carts started getting talked about and Kenny & Misato started freshstreet. Comfest? 40+ years. Those fair food vendors are part of the tradition too, and frankly they’re my favorite fair food vendors. The Ohio State Fair food vendors that have the same versions just aren’t as good. DUNNO! So if you want to see more food carts then uh, lean in and help out with planning committee. Or, like I said, mind your own business.

    I do wish we still had pride and comfest the same weekend. They really are complimentary. But then, maybe I need to spend some time with it’s planning then. :)

    • Wouldn’t people who live (or do business) outside the Short North not really have any reason to complain?

  • Jason Powell

    Correction^^: I do NOT want all of our large festivals by the waterfront.

  • Sunday is the best day of Comfest. It’s local. It’s over early. It’s laid back. Here’s a vote for that schedule and vibe all festival long!

    (I already Comfest that way – arrive at noon, pack up ~7. Fantastic summer days. No one else’s drama.)

  • drew

    ‘So, people who want Comfest to move *and* actually live around the Short North area, raise your hand please.’

    I’ll raise my hand. It’s just too much, in an area that already has so many things going on constantly anyway. Each year the participants get more rowdy and more disrespectful of the neighborhood surrounding the festival, and each year the festival resembles it’s original concept less and less.

    When Everett says “There’s more for families and people who want to learn about their community and current issues to do” is she outta her flipping’ mind? Does anyone seriously think anyone attends Comfest to learn about the community and keep up on current issues?

    Of course not. And that’s why Comfest has completely jumped the shark, as in the Fonz, on water skis, with a Faygo squirting juggalo on his shoulders.

  • ryannick

    I am DEFINITELY raising my hand. I am a Short North resident that lives next to Goodale Park, and not only do I not attend Comfest, but I put up barrier fencing and leave town for the weekend. I know it’s not everyone that attends, but it’s very discouraging seeing the lack of respect for the neighborhood and our park with the behavior that goes on that weekend. The “Community” Festival has simply outgrown the park and it’s time to move it somewhere that can handle the volume of people and parking. The fairgrounds would be perfect.

  • We had a really horrible experience Saturday night of Comfest this year (well, really Sunday morning at 3:00 am). We were awakened by the blood-curdling screams and yells for help of a woman, who we felt certain was being raped. When she didn’t relent, I went out to see what was going on to try to provide her with aid, call the police, ambulance, whatever. When I got outside, there she was writhing around on the sidewalk and our front steps on Neil Avenue. There was a cute, young straight couple with her. They were stone-cold sober and seemed mortified. I asked what was going on, if she was OK, if I should call the police or EMT. The cute couple said, “Oh, she just got really drunk at Comfest and ran into her ex-boyfriend and completely freaked out. We’re just trying to walk her home.” At that point I said “You need to get your shit together, quiet down and move along or I am calling the cops.” Later on Sunday morning (around 5:30 am), we witnessed a young man stumbling down the center lane of Neil Avenue with cars zipping by in both directions. He was so drunk or stoned he could hardly stand up straight, much less walk. He almost got hit a number of times before he wandered off somewhere.

    We’ve lived here 10 years now and have seen both Comfest and the Short North become continually problematic with young adults abusing alcohol and becoming drunk and disorderly. (It is starting to remind me more and more of High Street on OSU’s campus back in the day before they tore down all the bars and built Campus Gateway.) We’ve had vandalism to our property on top of the litter, congestion, nuisance and violence at all hours of the day and night. It is not an attractive trend. But with developers building “dorm” or “frat-house” style rental apartments and many of the unique shops and galleries closing and turning into bars like the Pint House, it seems like the neighborhood is on a trajectory in an unpleasant direction.

    Not sure it is fair to blame all that on Comfest. As a former board member of both the Short North Civic Association (when it was the Victorian Village Society) and the Short North Foundation and a member of the Short North Alliance, I can attest to the hard work, sincerity and community-minded spirit of Comfest’s organizers. I’m not sure people know how much they give back to the community in terms of improvements to Goodale Park, the neighborhood, scholarship dollars, etc. While I hate the crowds and the recent trend toward drunken disorderliness and violence, I’m not sure it is fair to pin that on Comfest and its planners.

    I like the suggestions of others on this thread of limiting alcohol sales, shortening the hours of the festival, including only local food trucks and carts, etc. as ways to bring things back to a more community-based, manageable level. And then we need to talk about Red, White and Boom…..because IMO it was WAY worse than Comfest this year in terms of the damage and impact to the neighborhood. It definitely lived up to its nickname “Redneck, White-trash and Boom” and that seems to be spreading farther and farther from the official downtown venue into the Short North and surrounding neighborhoods.

  • Columbusrules

    The Short North and Victorian Village have changed. Sure there are some people who come to comfest that don’t get it. I was priced out back in 2007/08. We moved to the west side. If people really want it moved, I propose Westgate park…(But it would have to be a different weekend, as the bean dinner dinner is the same time…)

  • whopper jr

    I have a hard time believing that this Comfest rowdiness is anything new. Whenever you have thousands of people gathering at a free event along with alcohol, the result is you’re going to have a few people that act in unfortunate ways. It seems to me there’s an adequate police presence to control this element.

    So, is Comfest getting actually getting worse or is the surrounding neighborhood getting nicer? It’s a matter of perspective; Comfest is a party and essentially has always been a party. As the area becomes more and more upscale, some of the newer businesses and residents seem to not “get” this party or the people that attend this party and automatically want it shut down or moved. I’d love to hear the perspective of a long time area business owner, resident, or police officer on how things have changed for better or worse…both at Comfest and in the neighborhood.

    While the pissers, pukers and illegal parkers are definitely amplified over Comfest weekend, it also seems to be the norm for the current state of the Short North.

  • goldenidea

    I live about a block from Goodale Park and have attended or been around ComFest for several decades. I think some of the recently introduced measures: reduced hours and smaller mugs have been beneficial. The ComFest organizers continue to be proactive and conservative when facing decisions to keep it as safe, friendly and manageable of an event and scene as possible. I think considering the large crowds it draws and the amount of time each day attendees can imbibe, that the rowdiness is below average. For example, I think in the hey-day of the Park Street bar district, there was a lot more rowdiness on any given weekend night after the bars closed than after ComFest closes.

    I don’t think ComFest has outgrown the park and I like that it’s hosted in the Short North. I think setting it in this particular park and neighborhood contributes to its positive and friendly mood. I do agree with the suggestion to consider adding more policing after closing in the areas around but outside of the park, e.g. along High Street strip, to prevent better prevent possible vandalism.

    Comparing ComFest to a couple of other large park-related outdoor events: as has been stated, there’s more rowdiness and detrimental impacts at/after Red, White & Boom, also there’s been near violence and gunfire at/around Asian Festival. Year after year, ComFest seems to remain relatively tame, despite it being the event where the most drinking and partying takes place.

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