A proposed food festival in downtown Keene took two steps closer to becoming reality this week, after a pair of City Council committees voted to support the event.
On Thursday, the council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full council spend $16,953 in unused funds to cover the cost of city services associated with the festival, which is being spearheaded by the Keene Young Professionals Network. The night before, the council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee voted to recommend the Young Professionals be given access to city property so they can host the festival in Central Square.
“The Keene restaurants would be set up around Central Square, providing food in exchange for tokens,” said Councilor Mike Remy, representing the Young Professionals. He added that the current plan is to create space in the square for 15 restaurants.
Originally proposed for May, the festival is now being planned for June 5. It is expected to run from noon to 5 p.m. and feature bites from local restaurants, cooking demos, a hot-pepper-eating competition, a beer tasting, live music and more.
The Young Professionals are seeking permission to close down Central Square, where they would set up booths for the participating restaurants, with the demonstrations planned for the gazebo. The nearly $17,000 in funding support would come from money left over in the city’s fiscal year 2021 community events budget, which would be used to cover the cost of the fire, police, public works and other services the festival would require.
Remy emphasized that the Keene Young Professionals Network would make no money on the event and that any proceeds would be distributed among participating restaurants.
“We’re going to go in with $10 in our bank account and we hope we walk out with $10,” he said. “We might walk out with $9.”
Public Works Director Kürt Blomquist said most of the events the city budgeted funds for were ultimately canceled, and it’s this money the Young Professionals are asking to tap for the festival.
FOP Committee members expressed support for the festival, though Councilor Raleigh Ormerod raised concerns about parking availability and also safety related to the pandemic. He asked whether there were backup plans if it becomes unsafe to have a public gathering come June.
Blomquist emphasized that the event would comply with all applicable guidelines. The hope, he said, is that by June, New Hampshire will have begun making vaccines available to more members of the general public.
During Thursday’s meeting, Med Kopczynski, the city’s economic development director, said the event was designed to be a celebration of the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want this to be the best event possible,” he said. “We also want it to be a safe event.”
Luca Paris, owner of Luca’s Mediterranean Cafe, also spoke during the meeting, saying he feels this would be a great event for the city. The festival would be a symbol that things are getting better, he said, and it would be important for the city’s culinary sector.
“It means a lot to the restaurants, it means a lot to the food community in Keene,” he said. “And it’s going to be a wonderful event to showcase just how progressive we are in Keene as far as making things open again.”