Phoenix Police detain a man at McDowell Metro Station Sunday afternoon.EXPAND
Phoenix Police detain a man at McDowell Metro Station Sunday afternoon.
Sean Holstege

Despite Bees, Phoenix Gets an 'A' on Downtown's 'Biggest Day Ever'

By Sunday sundown, Phoenix had passed the audition. Even a swarm of bees didn't stop the city from getting an "A" on its big downtown day.

Officials billed it the city’s busiest-ever day for public events, with the NCAA Final Four Fan Fest going on across the street from the Diamondbacks’ seasons opener and a Suns home game. Plus, there was a free concert park featuring Aerosmith a few blocks away and Beethoven's Ninth and the annual Phoenix Pride Parade all nearby.

Phoenix officials estimated crowds topping 100,000 would roam downtown streets.

The scene was busy, even frenzied at times, with an enormous presence of emergency personnel.

By all reports, it seemed to work.

“I’ve not been advised of any incident that would be considered significant,” said Phoenix Police Sgt. Mercedes Fortune, speaking from the region’s operations center.

She reported no arrests and had no immediate reports of medical responses.

The official verdict mirrored what police officers, firefighters and the public said all day. It was also the view from the NCAA and local event organizers.

“We’ve had very few incidents,” said Kristen Pflipsen, spokeswoman for the local organizing committee as music from Blink-182 boomed from the nearby sound stage at Margaret T. Hance Park. “In general, everybody was in a great mood. It was free and it had top acts. We couldn’t ask for better weather.”

That’s not to say there were no hitches. Hance Park was the site of most of the mishaps over weekend.

It started Thursday when a water leak briefly threatened to flood the beer garden. On Saturday, police report, crowds flocked to the free concert in such large numbers that authorities had to close the entry gates. Then, some people thought they could scale a fence to hear the tunes.

On Sunday afternoon, a swarm of bees took over a tree on the west end of the park, according to the Phoenix Fire Department. The city brought in beekeepers to help parks staff deal with the swarm before the gates opened.

As dusk neared, officials intermittently closed and opened the gates, to meter the flow of music fans entering the concert. At entrances at First Street and inside the park under the Central Avenue bridge, large throngs waited to get in.

Locals took it in stride.

Adam Warner, of Buckeye, and Miranda Balderas, of Phoenix, both waited half an hour Sunday before giving up. The 21-year-olds had managed to get in on Saturday and said they didn’t mind the inconvenience because the gig was worth it.

“Yesterday was awesome,” Balderas said. “The screen is really big and the sound is good.”

It wasn’t clear if out-of-towners shared their enthusiasm.

Bill and Vicki Kissinger flew in from Boise for their sixth NCAA Final Four tournament in a row, and said they were enjoying it as they stepped off a nearly sardine-can Metro train at McDowell Station.

Their experience was typical. They had to park a mile away from their starting station. They likely were barred immediate entry to the park.

“We’ve never been to one where we couldn’t get into the concert before,” Vicki Kissinger said.
But both said the region had been welcoming and “comparatively safe.” Compared to Detroit, they said.

For their part, they noticed the heavy security, and welcomed it.

“Look at what’s going on in the world,” Kissinger said.

Nearby, police stopped pedestrians crossing the park on the Central Avenue bridge.

The police presence was particularly heavy at the McDowell and Roosevelt Metro stations. These were the two busiest stations on the line, Metro spokeswoman Susan Tierney said.

She did not have overall ridership estimates, but said trains ran smoothly despite the large crowds. She credited the high-visibility security teams.

“Overall, we are very pleased with how smoothly operations have been going since the beginning of the Final Four activities,” she said.

“What has been standout is the amount of security with partnership of law enforcement agencies during weekend events. While out at stations downtown, many riders seemed quite pleased and assured."

Valley Metro deployed teams from the Los Angeles County Sheriff with canine units, regular Phoenix transit units with dogs, and additional Phoenix police officers and firefighters, she said. On top of that, Valley Metro security officers, plus federal officials from the Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security all deployed to downtown Phoenix.

At the stations, police and transit officials barked orders to make sure revelers didn’t jaywalk and that people got on and off the platform without incident.

Some, like D-Backs partial season ticket holder fan Kevin Conner, didn’t like the crowds, and thought about staying away. but acknowledged they didn’t ruin his Opening Day experience.

The Diamondbacks' 6-5 victory didn’t hurt.

“It was a good game,” he said, as he walked away from the ballpark through downtown Phoenix. The D-backs won.

Still, riding the train “was a pain in the ass. They need to have more trains running,” Conner said.

But, as a longtime Phoenix resident, he was also realistic.

“We’ve waited 30 years to get this. It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn site better than we had,” he said.

So if the Final Four interfered with other major events, Conner and others didn’t seem to notice. Emergency personnel said it was all part of the drilling they did to make sure they were ready. Events planners said having so much going on was a plus.

“It made it better, because there was a lot of cross-promotion. If you went to the Suns and the D-backs, you get into Fan Fest for free,” Pflipsen said. “If anybody came to Phoenix, they will come back. They are arriving early and leaving late. They are building in their bucket list and going to the Grand Canyon and all the other great attractions in Arizona.”

Earlier and not far away, crowds gathered for an image-boosting event of another kind.

Fun-loving, colorful, and peaceful crowds lined the route from Palm Lane to Steele Indian School Park for the annual Phoenix Pride Parade. Return visitors and police said it was the largest crowd they’d ever seen at the event.

No crowd estimates were available.

The only hiccup occurred early on. An unsanctioned group tried to reign on the parade route, and police had to delay the start a few minutes until they could sort out the disagreement.

But the scope of the festivities was not lost on 45-year-old Sonia Martinez and her partner of 17 years, Calandria Etsilly, 42. Both came in from Gallup, New Mexico, for the event and were not disappointed, even after they showed up thinking the parade was set for Saturday.

“This is big,” Martinez said. “This is a huge parade.”

“It’s amazing how everybody can get together and accept each other for who we are and not what we look like,” she added.

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