Tucson Meet Yourself has a weight problem.
The massive weekend arts and food festival can no longer hold the event in El Presidio Park next to Tucson City Hall because there’s a concern about the weight being put on the underground garage.
Don’t panic. It’s staying downtown.
The festival, held in October, will keep its footprint on Church Avenue and in Jácome Plaza and will now stretch along Stone Avenue between Congress and Alameda streets.
The issue isn’t El Presidio Park, but the fact that there is parking garage underneath it.
When Tucson Meet Yourself started in 1974, about 2,000 people attended the event, said Maribel Alvarez, the executive program director of the Southwest FolklifeAlliance, which produces Tucson Meet Yourself.
Last year, roughly 120,000 people, along with more than 200 performers and folk artists and 65 food vendors crammed into downtown Tucson, including about 30 food vendors that set up shop in El Presidio Park, Alvarez said.
That’s a whole lot of vehicles, refrigerators and other heavy equipment parked in that space.
City officials are worried that Tucson Meet Yourself and other large festivals are exceeding the weight limit for the aging parking garage, which is roughly 100 pounds per square foot.
This year, the city refused to issue a permit for any festival in El Presidio Park, including Tucson Meet Yourself.
Greg Jackson, the city’s management coordinator, confirmed that big crowds and heavy equipment weren’t a great idea for the plaza.
The city has known about the problem since about 2006, when a study identified the weight issue as a potential problem.
City officials have kept an eye on the issue, Jackson said, knowing it was a matter of time before the size of the crowds would become a safety issue.
The Tucson Folk Festival is also being asked to move because of the crowds it draws, Jackson said.
Alvarez said that as Tucson Meet Yourself has grown, she and other organizers have been aware of the coming change.
“It allows us to have a better sense of a footprint in more of a street or block-party atmosphere,” Alvarez said of the move. “It’s funny, we’re only moving a few feet.”
She envisions the setup on Stone Avenue not unlike the Fourth Avenue Street Fair.
Alvarez estimates that the move will add an additional $10,000 to the festival’s existing budget of around $330,000.
To offset that cost, Tucson Meet Yourself is launching an electronics recycling program.
Components of old laptops, cellphones, televisions and other electronics will be resold for scrap, with the proceeds going to Tucson Meet Yourself. For more information, visit tucsonelectronicsrecycling.com.
“Some of the vendors have been there (at El Presidio Park) for decades,” Alvarez said. “But they took it with such positivity. Change is good.”