Raleigh ready to ease back in to special events and festivals amid pandemic, larger ones still in limbo

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- You can run through the long list with Jen Martin. "First Night Raleigh, Artsplosure, St. Patrick's, The Pride Festival, Bluegrass," she ticked off. All of them canceled in 2020 because of COVID-19.

"It's not only frustrating for event organizers; the general public loves these events and this city is a big city that does events," said Martin, executive director of Shop Local Raleigh (SLR), the non-profit booster behind Raleigh's Christmas Parade and Brewgaloo, the city's annual celebration of North Carolina beer brewers.

But this week, Raleigh City Council began laying the groundwork for a comeback for the city's events scene. Starting April 1, the city will allow special events on a case-by-case basis. The move comes after Governor Roy Cooper eased COVID safety restrictions in his latest executive order. But, the measure still caps outside gatherings at 50 people.

"It's a big deal. It's a big deal it's coming back, which is exciting," Martin said.

It's a big deal for Pat Price, co-founder of Sir Walter Running, non-profit running organization behind the popular Sir Walter Miler held every year at Meredith College in Raleigh.

"We were one of the last races before everything changed," Price said about last year's mile race.

Now, Price and his team are planning their first in-person road race since the pandemic began: a point-to-point 20K along the Neuse River Greenway -- with big adjustments to make it COVID-safe.

"What we're doing is we're having multiple waves. There will be 50 people per start. They have a 30-minute window," Price explained. "They can start right at their time slot or wait somewhere in the middle of that period."

It's scheduled for April 3. Price says runners won't just receive the customary t-shirt and medal for the event; they also get 'buffs', special face coverings.

"We want them to have this on their faces to start and finish and if they're passing somebody," Price said. "We want them to be as careful as possible."

Back on Fayetteville Street with Martin who's currently in the throes of planning for a June Brewgaloo, but knows it may not happen if the state and city restrictions don't ease up even more. Mac capacity crowds of 50 people make little financial sense for larger events that count on thousands of visitors.

"We are hoping and waiting and praying just like everyone else," Martin said. "We are trying to look at solutions, to look at alternatives---pushing the calendar for what will be that critical mass vaccination point when we can come back."

While Brewgaloo is tentatively slated for June, SLR seems to have more reason to be optimistic about a return to normal for November's Raleigh Christmas Parade, traditionally held on Hillsborough and Fayetteville Streets the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
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