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Tuesday, March 3, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 25.0° F  Light Snow Fog/Mist
The Daily
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The future of Halloween in Madison?
The city's plans are already affecting the direction the holiday revelry may take in future years.
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Halloween on State Street circa 2005.
Halloween on State Street circa 2005.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen

State Street's annual Halloween party is only a couple days away, and, while the changes proposed for this year's event are mostly clear, the future remains murky.

If the temporary barriers, food vendors and entrance fees are a success, will the city do things the same way again? And what if, despite everything, teargas makes yet another late entrance? What will happen then?

"We won't decide that until after we see how this year's event goes," says mayoral spokesman George Twigg. "We always try to take the approach that we'll learn lessons based on the most recent event and use those to make choices for the next year."

After past Halloween parties got out of hand, the city has taken steps to control unruly crowds. Twigg mentions the implementation of stadium lighting and the development of the university's "no-guest" policy as measures that have yielded some success. He also says police patrols of house parties have helped curb some problems and will increase this year.

Thanks to actions like these, says Twigg, Halloween on State Street has been "incrementally improving" during the first term of Mayor Cieslewicz: "Each year, we try to do a couple new things that make it a safer event."

Should the event prove problematic again this year, the city will likely continue its cumulative approach, adding security measures and restrictions in an attempt to correct problems.

Already, the city is so deeply involved in the structure and planning of the event that its chances of being able to play a diminished role next year look slim. This could become a problem for the city, because it doesn't want to assume sponsorship of the event, which would increase its legal liability.

City Attorney Michael May, in his assessment of this year's plans for Halloween, recommended that the city's role be limited and short-term. If the city's role were to continue to charge an entrance fee year after year, it "will more likely be seen as having crossed the line and sponsoring the event."

If Oct. 28 ends well, and is heralded as the best Halloween party ever, that could ease the city's transition to a less prominent role. And a successful State Street Halloween event, complete with admission fees, live music, and food, could look appealing to an outside event organizer.

"Ultimately," says Twigg, "if there were some formal event organizer who wanted to take a more direct role in Halloween planning, it would be a positive development."

When asked if enticing such a sponsor is part of the city's master plan, Twigg pulls out his best Vincent Price impression and laughs ghoulishly. "No," he says, "we'll just review what worked and didn't and try to build on what was successful."

Twigg stresses that people should keep their expectations "reasonable," as the city's focus is on incremental improvement: "We don't expect a perfect event that people will say, ‘'his was a complete success.' The things we're going to do this year aren't going to be a panacea, but hopefully they will show a continuing improvement over other years."

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