In a surprise development, Milton Theatre announced Aug. 22 that its annual Zombie Fest has been canceled.
Originally announced on Facebook, organizers said the event, scheduled Saturday, Oct. 19, was called off because of “limitations imposed on the event.”
Organizers have been concerned since June that as approved by town officials, the event might not work, but the theater pressed on to promote Zombie Fest because theater officials believed they could make it work.
Milton Theatre Director Fred Munzert said limitations included the number of food trucks and cutting vendors out of the plans entirely. He said the event costs $20,000 to put on - the cost of renting lighting, staging and sound equipment, booking talent, event merchandise and programs - and because the theater was planning a free event this year instead of the $10 admission charged last year, canceling vendors and reducing the number of food trucks means the festival is no longer viable.
“It got whittled down to less than what it was intended to be,” Munzert said.
Marketing Director John Paul Lacap said the decision was made by the theater’s board of directors Aug. 19. That was one day after the Concert For A Random Soldier, held at the theater’s new Quayside Stage; Zombie Fest was expected to be the new venue’s second event.
During its first five years, Zombie Fest’s stage was located at the Milton Historical Society lot on Magnolia Street, but flooding problems made that impossible this year.
Mary Knight, the society’s executive director, said, “The grounds of the MHS property have not been consistently dry since last October. It was suggested to the theater to think about having a plan B in place in the event the grounds were too wet and soft for all the trucks, trailers, vehicles, and stage to be set on.”
“We are sad that Zombie Fest will not take place this year, but like everything else they do, we know it will be back next year. Bigger and better than ever,” she said.
To keep the event downtown, Lacap said organizers wanted to turn Zombie Fest into a block party, closing part of Union Street for a free event with vendors and food trucks, and a concert stage in the street.
Lacap said the theater approached Delaware Department of Transportation about closing the road and were told DelDOT would approve anything the town approved. Negotiations with the town began in mid-June, but town officials objected to a stage in the street, so Lacap said the theater decided to put the stage on the lot it had recently acquired next to the theater.
Lacap said plans continued to be revised until July 1, when town council met to approve plans for the event. Theater representatives did not attend the meeting where council unanimously approved the use of four food trucks and closing Union Street from 5 to 10 p.m.
While Councilman Emory West had reservations about the time of the road closure, Councilman Kevin Kelly persuaded him by recommending to grant the request and revisit the topic next year if problems arose.
Town Manager Kristy Rogers said there have been no new developments with the plans since approval in July. She said plans the town approved were a scaled-down version of plans reviewed by town staff.
Mayor Ted Kanakos did not respond to requests for comment.
Lacap said theater representatives did not attend the July 1 meeting because the theater knew at that point plans the town would approve were so limited the event would not be financially viable.
However, the theater continued advertising for the event for nearly two months. Lacap said theater officials thought they could make the event work, but it became clear to them that would not be possible. He said last year’s event had eight food trucks and nearly ran out of food; four trucks was insufficient.
In addition, Munzert said the theater was occupied by planning for Concert For A Random Soldier, so decisions on whether to go forward with Zombie Fest were put on hold. After the concert was held Aug. 18, he said the board was able to sit down and decide the festival’s fate. Munzert said the cancelation was frustrating, but the theater plans to regroup and possibly bring the event back for 2020. He said there were no plans to try to move the festival elsewhere for this year.
“We’re going to let it rest this year,” Munzert said.
Zombie Fest was entering its sixth year, a major fall attraction for downtown Milton. According to the theater, last year’s event drew about 5,000 people. The event highlight is the Zombie Walk, in which zombies walk down Union Street from Broad Street to Federal Street.
The event was founded by Po’ Boys restaurant, in conjunction with the theater. Po’ Boys owner Mike Clampitt said the original version of the festival served smoked meat and concluded with the zombie walk to the theater. During the event, the theater hosted zombie-related movie screenings and events.
Of the festival’s cancelation, Clampitt said, “It’s a shame, because when it first started, it was to bring people to Milton. To put Milton on the map. It’s a shame.”