Something In The Water
I’m skeptical by nature. Yet I can’t help but hope that Pharrell Williams will actually change College Beach Weekend from the most dreaded three days of the year to an event Virginia Beach enjoys.
Heck, a festival bursting with A-list artists sure beats what the city’s been doing to get through the last weekend in April: Call out the cavalry and pray for rain.
Virginia Beach has been through six of these “events” where tens of thousands of mostly African-American college students head to the oceanfront for a three-day party.
Mixed in with the college kids, though, have been scores of troublemakers. Some of these thugs are armed and dangerous. And their presence inevitably turns the oceanfront into a highly charged zone of anarchy where police valiantly try to keep the peace while trying not to trigger a riot.
Shops close. Businesses lose money. Locals stay away. And taxpayers pony up several hundred thousand dollars each year for law enforcement.
Last April, city officials insisted the vibe was good. The Virginian-Pilot published a story with this headline: “Despite Multiple Shootings College Beach Weekend Was A ‘Calm Atmosphere’ City Says.”
Four shootings, to be exact. At least no one died. In 2016 a 20-year-old ODU student was shot and killed at a party during the festivities.
College Beach Weekend has come to be known less for spring-break hijinks and more for stabbings, shootings, fights, arrests and rowdy behavior.
It’s unacceptable. It has to stop.
Enter Pharrell’s “Something in the Water” festival. The city’s only superstar has planned a three-day festival for his hometown with a jaw-dropping line-up of entertainers. Tickets sold out quickly.
Hotels are already full and it looks like throngs of locals will join the out-of-towners for the party.
Best of all, the college kids will have something to do. Businesses will have a reason to stay open. Hopefully, troublemakers will be dealt with quickly and will not poison the atmosphere.
Officials announced last week that the organizers are paying $350,000 for city school buses to shuttle festival goers from satellite parking to the resort area. An excellent way to manage traffic. But some locals are unhappy, insisting that school buses have one purpose: to transport kids.
Those buses belong to the taxpayers. They should be put to use any time the city needs to move a lot of people.
There is one problem, however. Concerns were raised that bus drivers might be sleepy when they drove the kids to school Monday morning - hey, you can’t make this stuff up - so it was decided that the buses would stop running at 7 p.m. Sunday evening.
That’s nuts. The concert doesn’t end until 10. Transportation has to run until at least 11, probably midnight. Otherwise, the revelers are going to be stranded.
TV news reports said 400 bus drivers applied to work the festival. Seventy buses will be in service. Surely there’s a way to split the shifts so drivers can rest before Monday morning.
When I talked to Mayor Bobby Dyer yesterday he said a solution was in the works.
It better be.
Pharrell has put his heart, soul and reputation into helping change the last weekend in April from a fiasco to a festival.
He’s doing his part. Now the city needs to step up and find a way to keep the buses running.