The great Viking Fest debate

Viking Fest circa 1980 - Photo courtesy of Poulsbo Historical Society
Viking Fest circa 1980
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Poulsbo Historical Society

POULSBO — Where, oh where, should the carnival go?

Seventh Avenue, perhaps?

That’s the question Poulsbo’s Community Services Committee was faced with Wednesday night. And one they have yet to answer.

In yet another continuation of a discussion that began last summer, members of the Poulsbo City Council attempted to find a solution that has evaded them for months. Their goal is to relocate the Viking Fest carnival, a boisterous part of the popular May event downtown business owners petitioned to have removed from the Front Street area. Business suffered, they said, when Anderson Parkway, one of the only lots available to downtown shoppers, was lost to the invading carnival for an entire weekend. Other complaints included the non-buying crowd attracted to the carnival, as well as the carny atmosphere it conjures.

So business owners asked both the Viking Fest organization and the city to find a solution. They’d prefer to move the carnival away from their storefronts while keeping Viking Fest’s original cultural presence and beloved parade downtown.

The request has been a tricky one for Viking Fest organizers to meet, due in large part to the difficulty of finding a suitable location. Viking Fest president Ron Krell said the event’s board considered several places, including sites in the Olhava area that proved unsuitable, before settling on Seventh Avenue. He was given the go-ahead to relocate the carnival and Viking encampment to the area by four property owners at Poulsbo Village’s north end. The relocation would also include a change in the parade route, making it a 1.5-mile trek from Front Street, up Iverson Street and along Seventh Avenue.

The proposal came as a surprise to many.

Poulsbo Village property manager Bev Lyon said she and area merchants were given only a few hours notice Wednesday regarding Viking Fest’s plans. It was an “under-handed” move by the Viking Fest organizers, she said.

She and two other business owners outlined several problems with the relocation, many of which echoed the difficulties downtown merchants have expressed over the past few months.

Loss of parking, parking lot damage and blocked customer access were listed.

Coast Do It Best Hardware’s Bonita Doerksen said the Seventh Avenue location is not only a poor choice, but a temporary fix to a problem that needs a permanent solution. The downtown atmosphere adds to the event’s charm, something an undeveloped parking lot couldn’t do, she said.

Le Soleil Tanning owner Lori Hoover said she would have to shut down her business for the weekend if the event took place there.

“Viking Fest has never been a positive event for our merchants,” said Lyon, adding business owners in the area have already been plagued with the State Route 305 widening project construction and were hit hardest by the December 2007 flooding. “I think this proposal is a bitter pill for them to swallow.”

Krell said, unlike Lyon’s report, that he talked with several Poulsbo Village merchants who were OK with the relocation, and he said the late notice was due to the last-minute decision made by one of the property owners, whose go-ahead was needed before the proposal could be brought up.

Councilwoman Connie Lord said she was surprised Viking Fest planned to move not just the carnival away from downtown, but the booths and Viking encampment as well.

Krell said staffing two locations would prove too difficult and a split in the attractions would lessen the number of attendees.

Councilman Ed Stern said he appreciated Viking Fest’s efforts, though he didn’t believe the Seventh Avenue solution to be a perfect one. Testing it out for one year may be the next best step, he said.

“It’s something of an experiment for all,” he said. “I’m not sure this is the right solution. ... Sometimes in life you have to try something to figure out if it works or not.”

The Community Services Committee would like to hear further responses to the proposal from Poulsbo Village merchants, the Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association and the Poulsbo Farmers Market, which is located along Seventh Avenue on Saturdays.

A special meeting to continue the discussion is planned for 3 p.m. Jan. 23.

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