Birmingham scales back Dream Cruise events
By Kevin Elliott
Birmingham city commissioners on Monday, June 14, agreed to scale back the city’s involvement in the annual Woodward Dream Cruise this August as COVID-19 deaths in the United States topped 600,000.
Birmingham Fire Chief Paul Wells in May requested commissioners drop all support for this year’s Dream Cruise, which is scheduled for Saturday, August 21, citing public health concerns and a new variant of COVID-19 on the rise. Commissioners requested Wells return at the June 14 city commission meeting to discuss the matter further and update them on potential conditions.
“In the past two weeks, we have seen eight cities with an uptick in COVID. We are also seeing up uptick in different countries,” Wells said. “The latest on the Delta variant are showing Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are 79-percent effective against it… 10 percent of cases in the United States have a Delta variant, and they think there will a rise in that.”
Wells said that with about 60 percent of the state’s population vaccinated, there is still a risk for large gatherings, such as the Dream Cruise, which draws in visitors from across the country and around the globe. As such, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) recommend against large scale events, and to provide social distancing if they do take place.
In May, Wells had said 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, and 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 had 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.”
At the May meeting, mayor pro tem Therese Longe pointed out, “I think whatever we decide here will have consequences for more than one year,” implying that sponsors could pull out of the city all together should the city withdraw its support.
Since the May commission meeting, the Dream Cruise received a green light from organizers, the Woodward Dream Cruise board, the official sanctioning body for the cruise, which runs from 8 Mile Road to Pontiac along Woodward.
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. Officials learned that sponsors, such as General Motors, were seeking locations on privately-owned property in an effort to bypass city approvals.
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.
Rather than cease all involvement in the event, Wells recommended a scaled down version on the city’s behalf that would span S. Old Woodward between Bpwers and Landon streets. The area would allow for a staging ground for General Motors between George Street and Ann Street; car clubs and vendors between George and Bowers; a WXYZ staging area in front of the Birmingham Pub; and a WOMC tower at Ann Street and Woodward.
“You’ll still have a large concentration of crowds here, but it will be much easier to manage with police and fire on the day of the event,” Wells said.
Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution approving the scaled down involvement.