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Event planning in the works at Historic Fort Steuben

STEUBENVILLE — Now that Ohio’s long-awaited guidelines for restarting entertainment venues are out, Historic Fort Steuben Director Paul Zuros said they’re trying to pull together an end-of-summer event in the park.

“We’re thrilled to pieces to get that guidance, we’ve been waiting for it for so long,” Zuros said. “We’re hoping to do a concert, I would imagine just one at this point. We don’t actually have an act or a date, but we hope to plan a concert for the end of summer.”

The guidelines were released earlier this week, days after a contentious debate within the Jefferson County Board of Health over the need for churches, fire department and other groups to have the ability to resume revenue-generating activities.

The regulations essentially mirror the rules in place for sporting events: Attendance is capped at 15 percent of fixed seating capacity or 1,500, whichever is less.

Social distancing, face masks, hand sanitizing stations and signage are required, along with a compliance coordinator.

Like the sports rules, event planners and venue operators who can’t meet the regulation as written can apply for a variance — they’ll have to submit documentation justifying why they need a variance, and how they plan to achieve the protections spelled out in the governor’s order. That means they’ll still have to meet social distancing guidelines and other requirements.

“We’ll be working with the venues,” Jefferson County Health Commissioner Nicole Balakos said. “Every venue will be required to have a plan, they’ll have to put together a plan in conjunction with the health department and if they need a variance, they’ll have to have documentation.”

Balakos said she’s already consulted with some event planners. Area schools, for instance, are putting together plans for fall events like homecoming and formal dances that don’t fall under the purview of the sports guidelines.

“We’re giving out a decent amount of verbal information, but mostly I’m reaching out to people we know are anxious to have events and need to expedite the process,” Balakos said.

The Harmonium Project’s Marc Barnes said they’re currently reviewing the new rules, “seeing if we can fit First Fridays into them.”

“It’s not really clear, the guidelines only seem to refer to venues,” he said. “We don’t really have a venue for First Fridays.”

They’re also working on plans for a Shakespeare in the Park event at Beatty Park in October, the first installment in what Barnes is hoping will become a biannual tradition.

“What we are doing is we are looking for good outdoor activities that could more easily social distance,” he said.

Wintersville Fire Chief Rob Herrington said his department won’t have any trouble adhering to the capacity limits for its bingo operation.

“That 300 person limit, we’ll be fine with it,” Herrington said. “Our hall actually seats 600, so we’re able to spread people out. Normally, we’d have 100, 150 anyway so it’d be no problem spreading out. We’re plenty big enough.”

Herrington said bingo generates crucial revenue for fire departments, his own included.

“It’s a substantial amount of income for us,” he said, “depending on the time of year. But right now, it’s important because we lost income from the hall, we’re just not starting to have wedding (receptions) again.”

Zuros said the Historic Fort Steuben staff is working with the health department to develop an acceptable plan for the proposed concert, as well as Lite Up Night and Nutcracker Village.

“We’re hopeful that we can do them this year,” he said. “Right now we’re in the planning stages of those events. We have to talk with the health department about events we can have … we have to have a plan that’s acceptable to them. But we feel very confident that we can come up with a plan and that the community will follow the guidelines. With the community’s help we can have a good event.”

Balakos said the guidelines mitigate risk but cannot eliminate it.

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