Birmingham mulls this year's Dream Cruise
By Kevin Elliott
Birmingham City Commissioners on Monday May 24, requested more time to decide whether to cancel all city-sponsored events from this year’s Woodward Dream Cruise and advocate for other communities to do the same in the interest of public health.
Birmingham Fire Chief Paul Wells said the state isn’t yet trending in the 75-80 percent vaccination range where he believes it should be for an event of the Dream Cruise proportion to take place.
“As a lot of you probably have heard, there’s been a lot of quick changes. Today, they did have new orders from the (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) lifting the outdoor mask mandate and gathering restrictions, and mostly likely July 1 all mandates will be ended. … they are saying that follows the mandates from the CDC, but I don’t like what I’m seeing from the CDC. Just a few days ago, the CDC still had an advisory about not having large events.”
Wells said people crossing state lines to come to the Dream Cruise provides a greater risk. Further, there are choke points where social distancing is nearly impossible, as those areas can’t be well regulated.
“These are some of my concerns,” Wells said.
Wells advised commissioners to cancel any city-related events, such as car clubs using city property on Old Woodward or other uses of city property for Dream Cruise events. While he recognized police and fire personnel would still have additional duties that day due to other activities, he said the safety aspect would be more manageable.
“I think we will still have an influx of 5,000 to 10,000 people, just cruising around, using restaurants and parking decks and walking streets, but sponsoring the large events we’ve had in the past – I think we need to take baby steps with this and not just roll into it all at once,” he said. “I’m not anti-Dream Cruise, I just feel like I have to tell you that I feel concerned if we overextend ourselves.”
Started in Ferndale in 1995, the Dream Cruise draws in more than a million people and over 40,000 cars each summer. Scheduled for Saturday, August 21, this year marks the official comeback of the event following its cancellation in 2020, due to COVID concerns.
Forgoing the sponsorship of the event would result in the loss of about $50,000 in event sponsorships, and a $3,000 donation from the event sponsors. The city estimates additional police, fire and public safety patrols cost the city about $29,042 in 2019.
Wells recommended the city withdraw from any sponsorships and encourage WDC Inc., the event’s organizers, to cancel the event for 2021.
Commissioner Mark Nickita noted it would be impossible to cancel the event, as it occurs on public property and Woodward is a state-owned road.
City Manager Tom Markus agreed that there’s no way to stop the event from occurring, but cutting back events in the city will cut back on the threat to public safety.
“I get it. It’s a huge event. It’s Detroit, it’s our Mardi Gras, but our concern is to limit public exposure. It’s about public safety and public health,” Markus said. “This event rolls over people. It’s not someone saying it’s good or bad, but it’s an event that has momentum and it keeps going and growing. I hear more complaints about cruising on Woodward more than ever, and all those things are in play here. But I’m going to be conservative and favor the side of public health.”
City commissioners also learned that events planned on city property are seeking new locations on private property in the city, such as live radio shows that typically occur in Birmingham. The commission requested additional time and information to decide whether to pull all sponsorships or determine if the safety situation would improve.
“I think whatever we decide here will have consequences for more than one year,” said mayor pro tem Therese Longe, implying that sponsors could pull out of the city all together should the city withdraw its support.
Markus noted the reconstruction of S. Old Woodward over the next two years would also have an impact on future events.
Commissioners will revisit the issue at their June 14 meeting.