WATERVILLE — It might not be as big as the Olympics, but event planners for the 20th annual Taste of Greater Waterville are aiming high.

“We’re hoping this will be the largest event the city has ever seen,” said Christian Savage, program assistant for the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, which is planning the 12-hour event.

From 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday at the Concourse and surrounding streets, festival-goers will be treated to food from more than 20 restaurants and vendors; dozens of events for adults and children; and a concert by Eddie Money. The festival is expected to be so big, event planners and city officials aren’t exactly sure what to expect.

“We’ve not had a lot of public events where we’ve had bands come in, particularly nationally known bands,” Police Chief Joseph Massey said. “It’s a cross-your-fingers-and-hope-for-the-best kind of thing. Are we going to have 5,000 people? Seven thousand people? It’s very difficult to tell. Had this band, or similar bands played in the past, I could make an educated guess.”

Massey said the uncertainty is compounded by event planners’ decision to hold Waterville’s biggest event in its biggest downtown parking lot — the Concourse. During the event, approximately two-thirds of its 600 parking spaces will be closed off for a stage, food vendors, a petting zoo and much more.

Robyn Loubier, business development assistant at the Chamber, said parking needs will be met. From 4 p.m. to midnight Wednesday, shuttle buses will provide frequent round-trip service between Head of Falls and parking lots at Faith Evangelical Free Church, 250 Kennedy Memorial Drive; Elm Plaza off upper Main Street; and the former Scott Paper Mill, near the Winslow Elementary School on Benton Avenue in Winslow. Those three lots will provide more than 650 parking spots, more than will be closed in the Concourse.

But, at least one business owner in the Concourse said that’s beside the point. Joe Marcoux, owner of Villager Family Restaurant, offered a blunt assessment of the Chamber’s choice.

“It’s not very good,” Marcoux said. “The thing I don’t like is it’s a parking lot and they’re busing people into a parking lot. Why don’t we park cars there? That’s just common sense.”

Marcoux said the annual event spurs shopping downtown, but spending might be curbed if shoppers have to carry their packages onto a bus afterward.

Also, Marcoux anticipates his business will take a hit. Although, parking spots in front of his restaurant will remain open throughout the day, Marcoux predicts those spots will fill up quickly and prevent his customer base — primarily retirees — from reaching his door.

Kathy Getchell, a supervisor at Goodwill Industries on the Concourse, disagrees. Getchell predicts the event will be an opportunity to do higher-than-usual sales throughout the day.

“We know there’s going to be a lot more people in town, and we hope they come in and see what we have,” she said.

Savage said the Concourse was the Chamber’s second choice of venue. The first pick was Head of Falls, but it was eliminated from consideration in February.

“Head of Falls was essentially off limits,” he said. “At that point in the planning process, the city was going to build the police station there. There would have been construction vehicles down here, and it would have been too difficult to have a large crowd down there.”

Plans to build the police station at Head of Falls have since stalled, but Savage said it was too late to change course.

Nearly all of the city’s 30 police officers will be on duty for the event and elsewhere in the city, and the Mid-Maine Chamber will be footing the bill for some of the department’s labor costs for the event, Massey said. Savage said officers from Maine Emergency Management, the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, and Maine State Police will also work.

“We’ve beefed up our police presence ten-fold this year,” Savage said.

Organizers say it’s hard to predict how many people will turnout. So far, the Chamber has sold more than 500 of the available 1,000 VIP tickets for the Eddie Money concert, at $25 each. About 8,000 general admission tickets will also be available on the night of the show, at $5 each.

“We’re seeing a spike in sales as we get closer to the event,” Savage said of VIP ticket sales.

The Taste of Greater Waterville began 20 years ago as a group effort by local restaurants. In its early days, organizers would close down Main Street in the evening, set up tables and chairs in the street and serve food, Savage said.

“The event grew so large, so quickly that the Chamber took it over, because of its resources. From there, it turned into an all-day event,” he said.

Loubier said there’s a reason why the festival has grown bigger this year. Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

For more information on the Taste of Greater Waterville, visit www.midmainechamber.com.

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