Police presence strong at SempleFest

By Alex Avakian

What had initially been anticipated as a troublesome, riotous event, the fourth annual… What had initially been anticipated as a troublesome, riotous event, the fourth annual student-run party called SempleFest proved relatively tame in comparison to previous years.’

Instead of the Semple Street free-for-all that occurred last year, Pitt police, city police and the Liquor Control Board managed to contain most of the partying to individual porches, keeping residents, roofs, cars and couches safe throughout the day and into the evening.

On the final day of classes for Pitt, South Oakland students welcomed the nice weather by lining porches and lawns to celebrate the term’s end. But by 2 p.m., the road on Semple Street remained vacant, besides the police officers. Students were confined to porches, where individual homes were throwing smaller-scale parties. Some, like of-age Point Park student Gina Pennline, were carded before being admitted to parties or given a cup.’

‘I feel SempleFest in my veins,’ said Pitt student Austin Koontz. ‘Everyone wants to connect it to a certain date or some Facebook group, or whatever construction they want to give it. The core of SempleFest is when it’s nice like this, you have all these finals, I just want to relieve all my tensions and literally just enjoy myself with my friends.’

‘I’m pretty sure that reciprocates itself because that’s what everyone else wants to do,’ he said, ‘and that’s what SempleFest is: Something that started in a living room, shoes on the telephone wire, glass in the street, turned into something amazing.”

By 5 p.m., the initial anxiety of citations and police presence began to dissipate as keg after keg was tapped and consumed. As students finished their last classes of the semester, parties began to swell off the porches, onto the stoops and some onto the sidewalks. As their numbers grew, police began telling students to clear the sidewalks and remain on their porches. Students obeyed officers for the most part, but within minutes, sometimes seconds, the party would spill back onto the street, only for officers to attempt to corral it all over again.

Partiers were mostly compliant to officers’ requests, but some people still received citations.

Many local business owners such as Diana Bellisario, who owns Mellinger’s Beer Distributor on Semple Street, fully supported the event, and even signed a student petition to allow it this year.

‘ ‘Pitt has a lot to celebrate this year,’ said Bellisario. ‘Spring is here, Pitt did great [in the NCAA basketball Tournament], the Steelers won … Kids need to blow off steam. Come on, they got finals coming up and they’re not going to see each other again for awhile.’

Mellinger’s, which had 75 kegs on hand for the event last year, said it had about 90 reserved this year.

Despite some grim expectations by residents and fans of the event, SempleFest did grow into a sizable party, regardless of the fact that it didn’t take over the whole block.

Even with the University’s warnings about behavior at the event, ‘it’s a success because the numbers aren’t there, but the people here are having a good time and they’re respecting the wishes of the University and the city,’ said a Pitt senior, who claims to also be one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the original SempleFest but asked to remain anonymous because of the event’s negative connotation. ‘All the tenants are being more respectful and responsible [than last year] and they’re not letting things get out of control.’

University and city authorities worked hard to water down this year’s block party. The Wednesday before the festivities, city police taped letters to Semple residents’ doors informing them that officers would be on duty and would make arrests and cite people as necessary. The University also placed numerous ads in The Pitt News warning students of the same thing and letting them know no permit had been issued for SempleFest.