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Fireball Run could be scrapped by city’s opposition to street closure

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Organizers in the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce have been planning the 2012 Fireball Run adventure competition since January, when the city of Watertown was selected as a host destination for the 2,500-mile tour that will run from Sept. 21 to 29.

But because interim City Manager John C. Krol has taken issue with closing Washington Street on Sept. 25, a business day, the plan to host the filmed tour could suddenly be scrapped. A finish line for the tour is set to be located near the Roswell P. Flower statue, where teams would finish at 3:30 p.m., and the street would be closed from the statue to Sterling Street from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Lynn M. Pietroski, CEO and president of the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce, said an executive from Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., plans to change the location of the event to downtown Sackets Harbor unless the issue is resolved with city officials by Friday. Mrs. Pietroski will meet with Mr. Krol and Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham to attempt to resolve the issue this morning.

In a letter sent to Ms. Pietroski on May 22, Mr. Krol wrote “we want to support the event but are unable to close downtown Washington Street at this time.” The letter suggested using the J.B. Wise parking lot instead — an idea that fell flat with the organizers.

Ms. Pietroski said she was surprised by the city’s stance on the issue and hopes officials will be able to iron out the problem by Friday. Universal Studios organizers visited with city officials, including Mr. Graham, in March and also made a trip to scout the area for the tour in April.

Surprised by the city’s decision after months of planning, Ms. Pietroski said she contacted Mr. Krol to talk about it but he told her the city wouldn’t close the street on a business day. She said she hopes a different consensus will be reached at the meeting today.

“We’ve been working on this since January and a lot of planning has gone into it,” she said. “Watertown was chosen as a host city because producers felt it had a great history and a lot of places for the race. We’re confident a decision will be made tomorrow, but if another community is chosen, we’ll support it 110 percent.”

Called “Northern Exposure,” a film highlighting the tour’s eight destinations will be produced by Universal Studios, which Ms. Pietroski said would put Watertown in the national limelight. The city is tentatively the fourth destination on the tour. After leaving the Watertown area, the cars will visit Burlington, Vt., before finishing the tour in Bangor, Maine.

Asked about the city’s qualms with closing Washington Street, Mr. Graham said Wednesday he didn’t know the issue could stymie plans to host the event. He said he’s optimistic the issue will be resolved today, although other city officials still may oppose closing the street.

“The city manager had some concerns about the logistics of closing down the entire street for a business day,” he said. “But from my point of view, I want to see the event happen here. I understand there has to be some limited accommodation for traffic for people to get in and out, but on the other hand, this has to be a decision made for everyone involved.”

Ms. Pietroski said tour planners also scouted Sackets Harbor when they visited in April, but plans for hosting the event there haven’t been established.

Mr. Krol couldn’t be reached to comment Wednesday.

For more information, visit www.fireballrun.com/2012/northern-exposure.

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