Push for community event to replace State Patty’s hits snag with Highlands group

mcarroll@centredaily.comJune 11, 2014 

— Town and gown officials who hoped a new community festival would be a final blow to a diminished State Patty Day’s might face some unexpected opposition.

Susan Venegoni, president of the Highlands Civic Association, said the neighborhood group won’t support a new event, even if it’s one borough officials want to take the place of the student-created drinking holiday.

“This feels like an approach that if you can’t beat them, join them,” Venegoni told Borough Council this week. “We think it will reverse the progress we’ve made the last few years.”

Police and campus and community members have stepped up pressure on State Patty’s Day in recent years, including paying bars to be closed. Last year, the popularity of the weekend took a serious hit, with arrests and alcohol-fueled incidents down, according to police data.

State College and Penn State officials and other leaders have been developing an alternative celebration for all ages that they hope could take State Patty’s Day’s place in the future.

Those plans seem to be coming into focus now.

Damon Sims, Penn State’s vice president for student affairs, said the proposed event, called “Thaw,” is taking shape as a music, film and comedy festival in various downtown and campus venues Feb. 27 through March 1.

“As you probably know, the goal with State Patty’s has been to reduce the popularity of that drinking holiday to the point where we might replace it with an event the entire community could embrace,” Sims said in an email.

Campus and borough officials have worked with members of the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau, and downtown businesses on planning for the festival.

“If the event is successful, we’ll have replaced a hugely problematic drinking holiday with the kind of community festival a vibrant college town deserves,” Sims said. “We hope it’s appealing to students, visitors and permanent residents alike.”

Not all residents are on board with that, apparently.

Venegoni said the Highlands group voted overwhelmingly at a recent meeting that no formal activity should take the place of State Patty’s Day.

They worry that a new event will encourage drinking and the types of out-of-town guests who have taken a large share of the blame for the excesses reported on the drinking weekend.

“It’s often been stated that the most destructive State Patty’s Day behavior, both to persons and property, is perpetrated not by Penn State students, but by the guests from out of town,” Venegoni said. “... If you are having a festival and everyone is invited, how can you prohibit guests and parties? You can’t.”

Venegoni also complained to council that the neighborhood group hasn’t been consulted about the plan.

“Traditionally, State Patty’s Day has brought a lot of hardship to our neighborhood,” Venegoni said. “And we had hoped to continue the success we had last year into the future.”

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