“We have presented a plan that will be very good for the community on many levels,” said Charles Gilliam, one of the co-owners at Okra’s. “The decision to proceed is now in the hands of our city manager.”
The business has applied for a city permit to move the celebration back onto Battle Street, with festivities spread out onto Center Street as well. City Manager Lawrence Hughes and Police Chief John Skinner are set to make a decision soon.
“It’s largely a question about safety and traffic,” Hughes said.
Okra’s held its Mardi Gras celebration on Battle Street for two years before the City Council voted 5-1 to keep it indoors, Councilman Ulysses X. White the only dissenter. Various members of the community showed up at the meeting to say that Mardi Gras wasn’t appropriate for a “family-oriented city.”
This time, Okra’s has brought in other businesses in the venture. Gilliam says that the Philadelphia Tavern and Jake’s Seafood are already set to have food stands at the event. And more area establishments are ready to join up.
The festivities will include bands, food and possible performances by dance and theater groups early in the evening. Beads, masks and costumes will be prevalent. An entire block of the festival will also be dedicated to children and families.
“It’s more family- and community-oriented,” Gilliam said.
Petitions for the return of the outdoor event are visible at bars and establishments throughout the downtown. Last Wednesday, Gilliam spoke to the Old Town Business Association and was “well received,” said Ray Willis, the association’s president.
“We will be surveying businesses in Old Town to see how they feel,” Willis said. “We should have a position in a couple of weeks.”
Staff writer Chris Newmarker can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 119.