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Flint, MI—From long-standing traditions like Back to the Bricks to instant classics like attending a Bucks game at Atwood Stadium, Flint summers have always been one for the books. As with many other aspects of life, however, COVID-19 has forced the city to adapt to what is, for now, a new normal.
This summer in Flint, that new normal means that many of the fairs, galleries and concerts that define a Flint summer are canceled.
“One of the most present challenges … seems to be really getting a handle on the most up-to-date decisions and guidelines on how and when they [business owners] can conduct business,” The Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce’s Conventions and Visitor Bureau Director, Alaina Wiens, said.
Before assessing the impact these event cancelations will have on businesses, Wiens said the community, patrons, and owners will have to explore new ways of interacting.
“We’re all going to have to get creative. That doesn’t just mean businesses. We as residents and consumers are going to have to get creative about how we’re supporting those businesses and those attractions,” Wiens said. “We just don’t have a full handle on what we’re dealing with yet, which is hard.”
When asked whether or not the CVB is preparing itself for a worst-case scenario, like Back to the Bricks, Flint’s highest-attendance event being canceled, Wiens said “ I think we have to. Really, our role at that point would be to make sure that we’re helping all the people that those decisions impact understand what the decisions are and how we all can move forward.”
“I hate to say it, but a lot of this would be one day at a time, we’re going to have to get the information as it comes and do our best to process it,” Wiens said.
Though not quite at the scale of Back to Bricks, one of the first series of events to go is also one that consistently draws crowds of thousands to the downtown area throughout the summer of 2019.
After a championship-winning inaugural season, the Flint City Bucks were primed to defend their title in 2020. On April 30, however, USL League 2, the Buck’s governing body, decided to cancel the 2020 season.
Despite this, in a statement released on the same day, Costa Papista, Buck’s president and Dan Duggan, the Buck’s chairman expressed that “The Flint City Bucks remain determined and hopeful that we will be able to play a USL sanctioned exhibition schedule once it is deemed safe to do so. We are prepared to kick off anytime this summer, even late summer or fall with a celebration of last season’s success.”
Other iconic Flint events, like the annual Juneteenth celebration and Flint Pride Festival, while not canceled, are facing uncertainty.
Postponed to Saturday, Aug 1, the tenth annual Flint Pride Festival may be hosted virtually. According to Theresa Springer, a spokesperson for the event, the “pandemic is reshaping our normal in ways we had not considered.”
Though organizers have not yet made a decision, similar virtual pride events are already being planned in other parts of the state like Detroit.
In a similar vein, the city’s Juneteenth celebration is currently on standby, with no word on whether or not it will be held, canceled or postponed.
Further down the calendar falls the Flint Institute of Music’s smash success, Music Around Town. Hosted at Atwood stadium every fourth of July, the concert, which is bookended by a dazzling display of pyrotechnics has always drawn in crowds large enough to rival any Buck’s game.
Ann Marie Van Duyne, a spokesperson for the Flint Institute of Music, said due to the latest June 12 extension of the state’s stay-at-home order, which leaves little time to plan for such a large event, the concert at Atwood is canceled.
Despite this Van Duyne said a similar event later in the summer is being planned, and small one- or two-musician events will be hosted throughout the city with a focus on performing for frontline workers.
Though Flint’s hottest months are usually the ones jam-packed with events, it’s not until August that Flint sees some of its biggest internationally recognized events: the Crim Festival of Races and Back to the Bricks.
Flint’s recreational juggernauts, with a combined attendance of nearly 200,000 people from across the globe, have the fortune of both being scheduled late enough into the summer to be able to hold out hope.
Amber Taylor, Executive Director of Back to the Bricks, says event organizers are monitoring the situation closely, with the board of directors keeping a close eye on how state and local laws change throughout the coming months.
“At this point, we haven’t made the decision to continue or cancel. We’re kind of in a holding pattern based on what’s going to happen,” said Taylor.
Taylor also mentioned that while nothing is certain, Back to the Bricks is laying out a series of contingency plans in the case of a complete event cancelation.
Taylor said she couldn’t give details on what their backup plan would look like, but added, “If it happens, it’s going to be a total surprise. We’re pretty excited.”
Taylor said the excitement around the event has reached a fever-pitch with calls coming in about the status of the event. “On a daily basis, I’ll get five to ten emails and three to five phone calls…the car enthusiast is so eager to get out. They’re wanting to drive their cars,” Taylor said.
Though not endorsed by Back to the Bricks, Taylor mentioned the cruiser community in Flint has been seeing social-distance car cruises popping up all over town.
Taylor says a decision on whether or not the event happens will be made “at some point in June.”
Similarly, Andrew Younger, the Crim Festival of Races Race Director says the decision to cancel, postpone, or alter the races will be made in the coming weeks.
“I truly wish I could predict what the plans will be, but at this point it is simply too soon to do that. What I can tell you is that we are looking closely every day at the data at hand, and whatever decision is made will be based on our ability to ensure the health and well-being of our participants, spectators, volunteers, and the community,” Younger said.
Though Flint’s summer will be unlike any other in its history, event organizers across the city are working on accessible programming, mostly virtual, that will allow Flintstones to celebrate all the same events they always have. Even if it’s in a different way than before.