Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke is reviewing options for shutting down a traveling carnival after the event got required approval from both the city and Hamilton County Health Department despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Berke criticized the pop-up carnival, which opened in Chattanooga on Thursday, discouraging people from attending.
"There should not be a carnival. People should not go," Berke said of the event during a news conference on Friday.
Traveling midway company Big Rock Amusements was granted the permit for Gunbarrel Road. The company applied last week with "food toys vendor" as the description of work, without referencing a carnival, fair or other related terms on the application, according to a screenshot of the application obtained by the Times Free Press. The city was not immediately able to provide previous permit applications by the company.
"I am mad. I am frustrated. I'm concerned that the documentation that they filed with us apparently said that they were selling stuffed animals and treats," Berke said. "That's not the way to conduct business."
Berke said the city does not have the authority to revoke the permit, but that officials are looking for a way to intervene.
"We don't have the regulatory authority to shut them down. I think that's unfortunate, and we're going to review that," Berke said. "But I don't understand why we're having a carnival. You want to avoid situations where you're inviting lots of people to the same location. We shouldn't do that. That should apply to this carnival."
In Hamilton County, Mayor Jim Coppinger said the health department did an inspection of the facility to determine whether it was safe before its opening. While Coppinger said Friday that he didn't know what came of the inspection, the carnival began operating Thursday night.
"I don't know what the results of that have been, but they were definitely going out there to see if that was something they can do within the requirements," Coppinger said, later adding that he thought the city was "taking care of it."
Asked if he thought the carnival was appropriate, Coppinger said that, as an outdoor event, it doesn't pose a severe threat to the community.
"The emphasis is and always will be on outdoor activity on the social distancing and the wearing of masks," Coppinger said. "You see places like Pigeon Forge and Dollywood open. And what we're trying to do is [help] the economy at a smaller level, to bring back normalcy a little bit at a time."
"We want the economy to come back, but we'll only do it in a safe manner," he added.
Representatives of Big Rock did not respond to requests for comment on Friday, but made a Facebook post Thursday explaining that the group will do temperature checks, operate rides at a lower capacity and take other safety precautions, specifically while in Chattanooga.
The post did not mention masks, and the group did not appear to require masks at other recent events in other cities. The post did say that "guests are encouraged to follow local recommendations regarding personal safety and precautions."
The carnival is scheduled to be open through Aug. 2.
Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor.