Earlier this week, the City of Carmel announced the cancellation of the Carmel Christkindlmarkt and ice skating season at the Ice at Carter Green, two events the city launched in 2017 that have already become an annual tradition for many families.
The cancellations — like so many others this year — were prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. But with four months to go before the late-November events, many residents wondered why the city took the drastic step so early.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said it was a tough decision, but the right one.
“The vendors were hesitant to come because we had to limit the numbers (of guests). They might lose money,” said Brainard, adding that attendance would be slashed by 70 to 80 percent to ensure physical distancing. “Plus, having a watered-down or less-than-ideal experience is not the way we want the Christkindlmarkt to be remembered. We’d rather take a year off, not lose a lot of money and then start new in the holiday season of 2021.”
Although COVID-19 cases could be greatly reduced by November, Brainard said he doesn’t believe it will be safe to hold large gatherings until a vaccine is developed and widely available. He’s hopeful that will happen late this year and that the city can begin hosting large events again in the first or second quarter of 2021.
An event that could still debut in 2021 is an art and film festival, scheduled for May 14 to 22. The Carmel City Council has told organizers that it does not believe 2021 is an appropriate time to launch the festival and will not provide additional funds for it. But Brainard said several private donors and partners have expressed interest and that talks are ongoing to launch the festival in either 2021 or 2022.
“The goal is to bring thousands of people to Carmel,” Brainard said. “It’s the sort of thing that would get a lot of regional and national publicity and help put Carmel on the map.”
For years, Carmel’s economic development strategy has relied heavily on planning events to draw crowds to the area. Losing those events has been tough for many local businesses, Brainard said, but he’s heard of few closures.
“Our small business community is hanging in there doing the best they can,” Brainard said. “The community has really stepped up to do a lot of carryout in April in May (when restaurant dining rooms were closed). People supported their favorite restaurants, and that really helped. People were buying locally.”
Brainard said the city plans to ramp up the number of events it plans once it’s safe to do so to help local businesses recover.
The pandemic also led to a delay in the completion and opening of Hotel Carmichael, a controversial $58 million project resulting from a partnership between the city and developer Pedcor that ended up costing 40 percent more than first estimated. Originally slated to open in May, Brainard said the new opening date will likely be in mid-August.
Brainard said the hotel hasn’t opened yet because the pandemic caused disruptions in the supply chain, delaying work to finish the hotel. He said many events such as weddings and bar mitzvahs are booked at the hotel in 2021, and he is hopeful they will take place.
“We’re very optimistic about it, but it’s probably the most difficult time in our lifetime to open a hotel,” Brainard said.
The City of Carmel has announced the cancellation of the following events:
- Carmel on Canvas
- Art of the Dog
- Late Night on Main
- Chinese Mooncake Festival
- Music on the Monon
- Holiday at Carter Green
- Holiday in the Arts District
- Carmel Christkindlmarkt
- Ice skating at the Ice at Carter Green