BridgeFest wins top state award

Kay Woods (left) and Kathy Bailey, the organizers for Oil City’s 2018 BridgeFest, received a statewide award for Best Special Event at the annual Pennsylvania Downtown Center conference in Erie. (Contributed photo)

It turns out that Oil City-area residents weren’t the only ones enthused about the debut of BridgeFest last summer.

A statewide organization that celebrates Pennsylvania’s downtowns and recognizes efforts to revitalize those areas selected BridgeFest as as the top special event in the state last year.

“Our chances were slim because that category is one of the most competitive, especially when you consider all the concerts and festivals and more held throughout Pennsylvania,” said Kathy Bailey, manager of Oil City’s Main Street Program. “Every town should strive to do the coolest events they can. And I think we did.”

The Main Street program and the Oil City Arts Council, revved up by an idea put out by Kay Woods, teamed up last year to add new venues for summer entertainment.

Their choices were the Center Street Bridge and Veterans Bridge.

The selection was deliberate, said Woods, “to bring all sides of the city together.”

Despite some early hassles involving licenses, permits and traffic closures, the dual events drew huge crowds to the evening bashes that featured entertainment, music, food and more. Organizers speculated that attendance easily exceeded the 1,500 mark.

The festival on the Center Street Bridge marked its second year while the Veterans Bridge span party debuted in 2018.

All that effort and resounding success resulted in a 2019 Townie Award for Best Special Event from the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, an organization that focuses on community revitalization.

The award, presented during the organization’s annual statewide conference held recently in Erie, gave kudos to Oil City’s Main Street Program and Arts Council. The keynote speaker was Gisele Fetterman, wife of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman of Braddock.

How BridgeFest started

In early 2018, Woods approached city council to suggest the Center Street Bridge festival should be expanded to include another night of public events on the larger span, Veterans Bridge.

The request from Woods, joined by Bailey who had coordinated the earlier Center Street Bridge festival, ran into some hurdles that ranged from getting permission to close the bridge to vehicular traffic to obtaining a liquor permit to sell beverages at the new venue.

“Yes, it was a challenge and we met with some resistance,” said Bailey. “And with it being a new event, it was a little difficult but you learn along the way.”

Woods led the Veterans Bridge effort, charting her progress as well as any obstacles by “scratching them out” by hand on a legal tablet.

“I just talked to everyone on my own to get what we needed,” said Woods. “Everything was just written down on scratch pads.”

That method of operation has changed dramatically this year with the addition of volunteer Brian Hoffman, an Arts Council member and an engineer by trade, who created a multi-page BridgeFest outline filled with maps, contact in- formation, positive/negative reactions to the 2018 event, list of vendors, a minute-by-minute event schedule, set-up times and much more.

“The detail is amazing,” Woods said with a laugh. “But then again, he is an engineer and he is extremely organized so he knows how to put all this stuff together.”

2019 BridgeFest

The first segment of BridgeFest is set for 4 to 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, on the Center Street Bridge. The Main Street Program oversees the festival that is family-oriented and offers entertainment, games and food.

The second part is planned from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, on Veterans Bridge.

The events include the sale of alcoholic beverages, food vendors, bands and more.

“Both of the BridgeFest events are appropriate for all ages and are open free of charge to all,” said Bailey, adding the spans would be closed earlier on each day to allow for set-up. “That’s just a heads-up for drivers because there will be some detours.”

This time around, the 2019 BridgeFest will come off with a top state award in hand as well as a potential bigger public response to the unique celebration.

“The whole idea was to bring the city together and I think, even with some traffic issues last year, that everybody is more accepting this year. I think BridgeFest will be incredible this year,” said Woods.

The ability to party over top the two waterways that separate the community is inviting, said Bailey.

“We believe we should make the most of that separation by water by enjoying our bridges,” she said. “And this award for BridgeFest is something to be proud of because so many volunteers, and the city (hall), made it happen.”

Main Street is honored In addition to the BridgeFest honor, Oil City’s Main Street Program was recognized as among the top 10 best performing Main Street programs in Pennsylvania in 2019.

That honor was given to the local downtown revitalization program by the Pennsylvania Downtown Center (PDC) at the statewide organization’s annual meeting in Erie.

The award recognizes those programs that have demonstrated an “across the board” capacity to generate new jobs, new businesses, public and private investment and volunteer hours during 2018.

Also selected for the honor were Main Street Programs in Easton, Boyertown, Hamburg, Quakertown, Ebensburg, Lewistown, Hazleton, Castle Shannon and Bedford.