Aberdeen symposium searches for solutions

Group says ‘success’ would entail making event more legal

Kingston resident and alumna Kathy Wood led discussion at the Aberdeen symposium Tuesday.
Kingston resident and alumna Kathy Wood led discussion at the Aberdeen symposium Tuesday.

Almost 80 stakeholders—made up of Queen’s administration, city councillors, downtown business groups, professors, the AMS, landlords, high school students and residents—gathered at the Ambassador’s Hotel Tuesday to discuss options for the future of the Aberdeen Street party.

The event was organized by Venicio Rebelo, a community member who started the “Red Hat Volunteers” program during Homecoming 2006.

Kingston Police Inspector Brian Cookman said trying to regulate the party would be “like squeezing a balloon.”

He said if police tried to disperse the party it might move north, closer to downtown. He also said using more sophisticated resources like tear gas might backfire.

“In my opinion, the use of tear gas is going to exacerbate the situation,” Cookman said. “You’ll create more problems than you solve.”

The bill for this year’s street party was approximately $256,000. These costs include extra police officers from the Toronto Police and the Ontario Provincial Police, extra hospital staff at Kingston General Hospital and increased Campus Security operations.

City council approved a motion to have Queen’s pay for this year’s party. The University doesn’t sanction the Aberdeen Street party as one of its Homecoming events.

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane, who was present for part of the symposium, said it’s too early to tell if Queen’s would create a sanctioned event for the Saturday night of Homecoming weekend.

“In the abstract I certainly think it’s a good idea,” Deane said. “If the thrust of the discussion was to point towards an organized event in which the city and the community in general had ownership and interest, we would certainly wish to be a part of that kind of arrangement.”

The symposium participants worked in small discussion groups to come up with ideas on improving the situation. The group reached a consensus that “success” would entail making the event more legal and into something beneficial to the community.

The group decided it was necessary to either create an alternative event or change the street party into a sanctioned event. There was disagreement on whether the goal was to discourage out-of-towners from attending, or to create an event the whole community could enjoy.

Most participants agreed that there would be nothing wrong with a street party if it was legal, controlled and sanctioned. If this were the case, they would also have no problem with out-of-town, non-alumni visitors during Homecoming weekend.

City councillor Mark Gerretsen said he thinks most out-of-towners come for the party because it’s something they’re not allowed to do.

“We have to, to a certain degree, embrace the event that’s going on and try to take away some of the negative aspects of it,” he said.

“Over time, people will embrace the idea of the sanctioned event,” he said. “It could develop into something that’s productive for the city.”

AMS Academic Affairs Comissioner Alexi White said developing a community event out of the street party would have to be a long-term goal.

“Some people were going overboard with making it into a community event too quickly,” White said. “To attract students, we’re going to have to have some sort of ‘Mardi Gras’ event and that’s not a family event.”

The group made up of Cookman, city councillor Mike Wheeler and AMS Retail Services Director Alvin Tedjo suggested closing off part of Aberdeen Street and getting a licence to sell beer to students. This would ensure only those who are of age would have access to alcohol on Aberdeen Street, and would control how much people could drink on the street.

Jean Major, chief executive officer of the alcohol and gaming commission of Ontario, said Kingston isn’t facing a unique problem.

“[Closing the street] is certainly available as an option,” Major said. “It has been used in different communities.”

He said events in Toronto such as Caribana, the International Film Festival and BeerFest used special liquor licences successfully and controlled their events.

Some participants said it might be a good idea for businesses such as bars and restaurants in the Hub to extend their hours on the Saturday night to give students places to go.

Rebelo said he thought the symposium was successful.

“I think we’ve built some great relationships here [and] people are leaving with a lot more knowledge.”

He said he and his team will continue doing research and making calls to try to create an alternative event to the street party.

“At the end of the day for us, we want to create an event to take over from the Aberdeen experience,” he said. “There’s no point creating an event if Aberdeen still happens.”

Rebelo said the alternative event would likely be licensed to serve alcohol.

If the event is approved by the city, Rebelo said he would want it to take effect in 2008.

“That means we’ve got 10 months to pull something off,” he said.

No matter what form the event takes, Rebelo said Queen’s students need to be involved in the planning process.

“The students have got to take ownership of it.”

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