Phoenixville's Firebird Festival returning to Friendship Field

Model of this year’s design for the Firebird Festival bird statue. Screenshot of borough application document

PHOENIXVILLE — The Firebird Festival received borough council approval to take place Dec. 6 at Friendship Field, but that followed discussion on potentially holding it in another spot.

During Tuesday’s night’s council meeting, council members Shai Perednik and Jon Ichter Jr. expressed their belief that the festival would be better suited for Veteran’s Park, on the borough’s north end just north of French Creek.

“I very much do want the festival to happen, just not at Friendship Field,” Perednik said.

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Firebird organizer Henrik Stubbe Teglbjaerg doesn’t feel the same way.

“It’s true it’s a big field at Veteran’s but, at the same time, it’s just a bottleneck to get into it,” Teglbjaerg said. “Last year, we talked about the possibility of having it there but we didn’t [think it was] appropriate ... I thought it worked out well last year [at Friendship Field].”

Ichter said he wanted it moved to Veteran’s Park “mainly” because of the size of the park and the “ease of access through our new trails system out to that point.”

“I think the impact on the residents is great around the Friendship Field location and I think it would be much less in Veteran’s,” Ichter said.

There were some reports of trespassing and parking issues tied with the festival last year, borough officials said.

A snowstorm the night of the festival last December drove the number of attendees down to about 2,000. It was the first time the event was held at Friendship Field rather than a downtown location now unavailable due to development.

The 2014 Firebird Festival is expected to draw 16,000 people, according to the application filed with the borough by the festival’s organizers.

Last year’s was the 10th annual festival designed to celebrate Phoenixville’s renaissance through art and cultural displays which culminates in the burning of a giant wooden bird statue.

The bird is designed anew every year and constructed over a period spanning many weeks, typically beginning in mid-September.

That is part of the festival’s “charm,” Teglbjaerg said, allowing for the community to see the progression of the bird’s construction.

“Yes, there’s Facebook and social media but there’s a difference when you actually see [the statue],” said Teglbjaerg. “In my mind it’s important to keep it in the public eye so you see it.”

Councilman Jeremy Dalton attempted to come up with a sort of compromise, posing whether the bird could be constructed in a visible, public spot, then taken to Veteran’s Park for burning.

“Yes, it’s possible,” Teglbjaerg said of Dalton’s suggestion. “But it’s challenging.”

The 2014 bird statue is designed to be 30 feet tall and 30 feet wide.

“In my opinion, [Veteran’s Park] would allow [Teglbjaerg] to build as big a bird as we’ve become accustomed to in the downtown area, which, I think, is also a draw,” Ichter said.

Ichter also believes the social media presence of the Firebird Festival makes the event very mobile and “feasible at any location,” not just Friendship Field.

Teglbjaerg had issue with Veteran’s Park’s seclusion and access, saying that with only three shuttle buses it’d be “impossible” to get the crowds to Veteran’s Park.

Google Maps indicates that Friendship Field is approximately 8/10 of a mile from Bridge Street’s intersection with Gay Street, while Veteran’s Park is approximately 1.2 miles.

The Firebird Festival typically involves art and music performances tied with Phoenixville’s downtown, Bridge Street district. Teglbjaerg said the festival drives a lot of customers to businesses in that area. Moving the festival might change that, he thinks.

Organizers of the festival are asking PennDOT to close Gay Street for the parade that accompanies the festival as well as for access to the bird site via pedestrian traffic. The event’s application indicated that a PennDOT official was confident that closure would be approved.

Councilman Christopher Bauers said the Veteran’s Park location would have similar problems to Friendship Field, between parking availability and residential disturbance.

He also said Friendship Field has “ingress and egress from multiple sides.”

“We were at a point last year where this festival was not going to happen,” Bauers said. “Many residents from Friendship Field came out and expressed concerns but did not want to see this festival cancelled...We can’t just arbitrarily make a decision to have it at Veteran’s Park unless those residents are fully aware of what’s going to take place.”

Although Friendship Field is smaller, Bauers feels the event “can be managed more effectively” there.

In a vote for approval, council decided 5-2, with Dana Dugan absent, to approve having the Firebird Festival at Friendship Field. Ichter and Perednik were the votes against it.

Ultimately, Teglbjaerg wants the festival to be in a spot that prompts as much community-involvement and attendance as possible.

“It’s more everybody participating and creating this event,” he said. “Putting it somewhere where it’s out of sight, I find...diminishes [it].”

“I think the ultimate goal for the borough is to find a venue that is best suited so that the town and its residents can most enjoy the festivities without impacting the resident who [feel] the contrary,” Dalton said.

Check out a Twitter recap of Tuesday’s meeting.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.