Rock Hill Pride Festival organizers faced issues gaining city permits

The event is expected to bring in so many people that it would require a special-events permit.
The Rock Hill Pride Festival is expecting to host as many as 10,000 people this weekend.
Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 5:44 PM EDT
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) - A Rock Hill Pride event expected to pull in up to 10,000 people is coming to the city of Rock Hill in less than a week, but not without its issues.

The event organizers said it was running into issues with the city when they requested permits.

”We just really wanted to let people know they had a safe space here in Rock Hill,” Rock Hill Pride organizer and Mercantile owner Brittany Kelly said.

Step inside the Mercantile in Rock Hill, and people come face-to-face with her biggest event. The Rock Hill Pride Festival has been spreading love and acceptance for two years now.

”We thought that maybe Rock Hill wasn’t ready, but it turns out they were definitely ready for it,” Kelly said. ”You’re always scared to make that first step, but we made that step and it turned out to be a huge success and the need for it is here.”

Such a big success, Kelly knew this year they’d need a special events permit from the city to get help putting the event on, but she faced mounting roadblocks from city officials.

”It’s not as simple as we don’t want to get involved,” Mercantile/Pride Festival Marketing Specialist, Erin Anderson, said. “It was like we don’t like you and we don’t want to get involved. We don’t value you and we don’t want to get involved.”

Big events like Rock Hill Pride need a special events permit to operate.

The Special Events policy started to make sure everyone was safe at an event and risks were low. It also lets the city give permission to event organizers to use public property for their events. Without this permit, a large event like Rock Hill Pride would not be able to happen on city property.

Kelly said she applied for the permit in March to get safety and traffic help and some street closures. Just like any other permit application, Kelly’s was reviewed by the Special Events Committee, but was ultimately denied several times.

”That really just put us completely out of luck for trying to get a parking lot, a small road closure you know anything like that,” Kelly said.

In a statement, the city said street closures affect parking and space in an already-crowded downtown area. So it is reevaluating its policy and didn’t approve any road closure requests.

It also said it offered Fountain Park for the Pride Festival.

But in the city’s special events policy, it says Fountain Park is not allowed for any events that are not city sponsored. The policy continues stating that Fountain Park is open to the public for any activity that would not prevent another’s concurrent activity.

The festival is set to bring in 8,000-10,000 people, so it could have resulted in preventing other activity.

Kelly also said she could not get anyone from the city to put in writing the festival would have permission to use the park.

”We recently won all-American city in Rock Hill, and we’ve got a new road mural that says ‘Rock Hill for All,’ but it seems like sometimes we’re just Rock Hill for some,” she said.

Without a permit, the festival couldn’t be on city property, but Kelly pressed forward and got other businesses in the area to help her make this event happen.

”Still we really wish out city would be involved and recognize this,” she said.

So Pride will go on and they say it will be even bigger and better than before.

”Showing our city what they’re missing out on and like this huge amount of people that is valid,” Anderson said. “That are here and just need support.”

WBTV is digging deeper. I have put in a FOIA request with the city for all the special events permits that were approved and denied within the last two years. We are going to be digging into those files as soon as we get them and will have more on this story.

Here is the city’s full statement:

We’re in the process of reevaluating our street closure policy for downtown area special events, so the road closure requests for this event and others weren’t approved.

Fortunately, our downtown has seen a lot of growth, and each road closure affects parking availability and limits access for the many residents, which leads to complaints. In the last few years, two apartment buildings have opened on Main Street, with more residential units set to open this summer. We’re working through ways to balance the positive increase of regular downtown traffic (both vehicular and pedestrian) with support of past, recurring City events such as Food Truck Friday and ChristmasVille.

Accordingly, staff suggested the use of Fountain Park for the Pride Festival. It’s my understanding that the event organizers agreed to that option.

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