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Commission tables UP City Fest discussion

Dr. Matthew Songer, orthopedic surgeon of Marquette and event organizer for the Aug. 14-15 UP City Fest, discusses the purpose of hosting the religious festival and the safety precautions that are in place to the Marquette City Commission during its meeting Monday at city hall. (Journal photo by Jackie Jahfetson)

MARQUETTE — Due to concerns of COVID-19 safety protocols, a request for a special event permit to host an August Christianity-based festival was tabled during Monday’s Marquette City Commission meeting.

The Marquette City Commission met during its regular meeting that was closed to the public at City Hall to discuss Lifelight Communications Inc.’s request to host the first UP City Fest at Mattson Lower Harbor Park Aug. 14-15.

The commission will revisit the agenda item at a future date when event organizers meet with staff and go over feedback the commission has provided.

“It will then be decided if/when to bring the item back to the commission for further consideration,” city Manager Mike Angeli said. “I believe that (the commission) would like a clearer understanding of exactly what activities will be taking place at the event, the exact number of people who will be attending, and what other COVID-19 safety protocols will actually be in place.”

Lifelight is a nonprofit organization based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that offers free festivals and events to spread a Gospel message. The applicant has provided a safety plan that outlines mask use rules, personal protective equipment use for all festival workers and volunteers, fencing of the park to control the number of festival patrons to adhere to the governor’s executive orders, along with surface sanitizing and restroom cleaning plans. The safety plan also addresses rules for festival patrons to which they must comply with when attending the festival. The general fund would receive $1,740 in park rental fees, according to a city agenda document.

Marquette City Commissioners Evan Bonsall, Sally Davis, Pete Frazier, Mayor Jenna Smith and Mayor Pro Temp Jenn Hill are seen. (Journal photo by Jackie Jahfetson)

However, several commissioners pointed out that the event proposes to host over 500 people and that does not comply with current executive orders.

According to Executive Order 2020-115, “Indoor social gatherings and organized events of up to 50 people will be allowed, as will outdoor social gatherings and organized events of up to 250 people.”

The event proposes to feature entertainment of musical groups from across the world, motivational speakers, an illusionist, puppet show and Christ-centered motocross Zero Gravity Outreach.

“In principle, I think it sounds like a good event. Under normal circumstances, I’d be more than happy to have a very large event but certainly to me, 2,500 people or even 500 is a serious cause for concern,” Commissioner Evan Bonsall remarked.

Bonsall noted that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention states that medium-sized, in-person events/gatherings that allow individuals to remain spaced 6 feet apart and where attendees are coming in from different areas are considered high risk.

“Personally, I’d rather trust the CDC (where) lots of very smart people (are) working there. We’re very lucky as a country to have the best public health agency in the world and I think we should listen to them,” Bonsall said. “At the same time, I was impressed with the safety plan that was submitted. My concern is enforceability.”

The only festival that is still tentatively on the schedule for September is the 12th annual U.P. Fall Beer Festival.

“I do think we need to consider fairness as well and treating all events equitably, and how we move forward from here to long term. So I’m still quite torn but I think we need to place public safety and public health as our number one priority,” Bonsall added.

As one of the event organizers, Dr. Matthew Songer — an orthopedic surgeon from Marquette — addressed the commission’s concerns of overall safety of the festival’s patrons, noting that the transmission rate for the coronavirus is much lower outdoors than inside.

“… Outside you’re about a 1,000 times safer than inside; and conversely, if you’re in a plane or on a bus or some place really close, well, then you’re obviously even worse (off). So outside, it’s dispersed at an amazingly rapid rate and it’s not like you get one virus, you get the disease,” Songer said. “You have to get a very significant inoculum. And so, it’s been transmitted mostly by close, personal contact.”

A mask represents safety and respect for one another and the event requires masks, Songer noted. The festival will have a big screen in front of the parking lot for attendees who wish to remain in their vehicles, and markers will be placed 6 feet apart in the park’s field to allow for proper social distancing, he added.

“We take it very seriously. This is not a political issue. You can see both sides of the spectrum have behaved badly. You can see a campaign inside with close to 7,000 people. You can see protesters that were not social distancing and shouting and screaming and everything else. So, we plan to have a very safe event, and it’s important because it sets the standard for the things to come,” Songer said.

During public comments, several people expressed their support for the idea to host a positive festival but noted it’s too soon to jeopardize the public’s health and safety.

“I’m 100% for what’s behind this event, totally about the idea and you’re darn right that people need to have this type of outlet after this type of an event to get some normalcy back into their lives, especially with the positivity of the premise behind your group,” Commissioner Paul Schloegel said. “But what if? … It’s too much of a gamble in my eyes.”

Jackie Jahfetson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is

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