A brand-new Greasy Pole dock welcomes a new age of challengers, the seine boats are ready to hit the water, and the outdoor altar is ready to beckon all to nightly entertainment and, ultimately, the traditional Mass of St. Peter on Sunday afternoon.
Yes, it's time for St. Peter's Fiesta, with the last night of the nine-day Novena prayer service set for tonight at 7 at the Lester Wass American Legion Hall before the full Fiesta grounds open Wednesday in St. Peters's Square.
That square — and the dock and waters off Pavilion Beach — will be the focal points of the five-day Fiesta, which dates to 1927 and celebrates and pays tribute to St. Peter, the patron saint of all fishermen, including the thousands who have sailed from Gloucester's waterfront, and continue to do so today.
The sometimes whacky five-day celebration kicks off Wednesday night with stage entertainment and a pay-once discount package for the carnival rides, brought to town again by the New Hampshire-based Fiesta Shows Inc. The rides will run for a third year on both the main Fiesta grounds in St. Peter's Square, and in the parking lot between the Birdseye building and 33 Commercial St., with the new Birdseye owner — the Beauport Gloucester LLC partnership looking to develop a hotel on the site — agreeing to a lease the lot for Fiesta's use.
One ride notably in its absence, however, will be the Ferris wheel, Fiesta Committee President Joe Novello said; Fiesta Shows is awaiting a brand-new Ferris wheel, but it hasn't arrived in time for a Gloucester visit, so the company will be offering other rides in the same space instead.
Novello said he and his committee are ready for what will be Fiesta's 85th year anchored in Gloucester's historic Fort neighborhood — even if one of the festival's classic events has a new component. The Greasy Pole Walk, Fiesta's iconic sports competition, will be run from a new, sturdier dock off Pavilion Beach after the old one, weakened by the winds and tides of Tropical Storm Irene last August, tipped over altogether under renewed weather pressure a few weeks later.
The new dock, built at an overall cost of $75,000, was entirely paid for with support from the community.
Replacing the Greasy Pole this past year has been just one part of the Fiesta Committee's costs, said Novello, who pegged the cost of running the Fiesta itself — even without the new dock — at between $110,000 to $120,000. Beyond paying the cost of the bands and other entertainers, that includes money for insurance, police details and a wide array of other expenses, Novello said.
Those police details will be once again preserving the peace for a Fiesta that seemed to make the most of a new atmosphere along the west end of Rogers Street last June. While the 2010 Fiesta brought more than three dozen arrests — including 27 on the Friday night alone — last year's brought roughly just a third of that.
Novello emphasized that there is no drinking or open alcoholic beverage containers allowed on Fiesta grounds, noting that where there has been trouble, most of it stems from those who were drinking at one of the area bars and became involved in incidents after Fiesta had closed for the night.
The improved atmosphere last year also drew on the 2010-2011 openings of the new Pub at Cape Ann Brewery — right next to the Fiesta site — and the Catch 22 Bistro across the street.
"Some of the real trouble spots aren't there anymore," noted Novello, who declined to identify the "spots." The Old Timer's Tavern, however, was shut down just prior to Fiesta 2010, and never reopened.
Novello said the Cape Ann Brewery, especially "has been a great neighbor to us."
"We're seeing families going into the brewery to have something to eat, and that's what we're about, too," he said. "This is a family celebration. That's what Fiesta is supposed to be all about."
For their part, Gloucester police are poised to ensure that's the case.
Police Chief Mike Laned said Monday the department has bene planning and hiring for details for at least the last week, with an eye toward having more than a dozen officers patrolling the Fiesta grounds each night, augmented by Massachusetts State Police and the Essex County Sheriff's Department.
"We will be taking a zero tolerance approach for public drinking," Lane said. "We've sent out a notice to all liquor establishments that they're required to have hand-held counters — to keep track of the number of people coming in and the number coming out," Lane added. He emphasized that last call each night is 12:30 a.m., with all patrons to be out of the bars by 1 a.m.
"We don't expect an major problems," Lane added, "but if there are, we're prepared to handle them."
For Novello — who's served as Fiesta president for the last 12 years, and has been part of the committee for nearly three decades — the arrival of another St. Peter's Fiesta marks the fruition of another year's planning.
"It's a lot of work," he said Monday. "And every once and a while, we'll all look around and wonder if it's worth it.
"But then, when it opens," he added, "we see all the families coming together, we see all the fun, all the smiles on everybody's faces, and we realize that, yes, it is worth it. It's a great event, something we can all be proud of, and I know it will be again this year."
Editor Ray Lamont may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.