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Inspectors, police prepare for SXSW challenges

Wednesday, March 5, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Several city departments are gearing up for next week’s South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film, and interactive festival. While the event pumps approximately $95 million into the local economy, it also means extra work for police officers, the fire marshal, and code inspectors as they deal with the thousands of visitors flocking to live music venues across the city.


City officials are planning a news conference for today to remind the public about the rules for businesses that don’t normally host live music, but convert into venues during the festival. Several of those non-official shows were cited by the city last year for failing to have special-use permits.


“Ever since the City of Austin adopted a fire code and a building code, it has been the requirement to obtain a permit for a change of use. Everybody has always assumed this was a new thing,” Fire Marshall Don Smith told members of the Music Commission on Monday.


“Actually, the new thing was this temporary use permit to allow them to change. SXSW has been complying with those requirements for years and years and years. It’s on an individual inspection basis for each one of their venues. They give us a list months before those venues are used,” Smith said. Inspectors with the fire marshal’s office will work with those from code enforcement through the Public Assembly Code Enforcement Team to respond to complaints about assemblies without permits.


Police will close parts of 6th Street during the busiest days of the festival, starting at 6pm Wednesday, March 12, and re-opening it early Sunday morning, March 16. The street will be opened Thursday and Friday mornings between 6am and 10am to help rush-hour traffic to enter downtown, but will be closed to automobile traffic for the rest of that period


Police will also be prepared to respond to noise complaints. The city’s noise ordinance does include special provisions for some parts of the city during the week of SXSW, and police officers in each sector have been briefed on the ordinance and issued noise meters. Clubs outside of the downtown entertainment districts will not be allowed go above the noise threshold allowed under the ordinance, but the normal 10pm cutoff time will be extended until 2am.


Police will also issue a warning upon responding to the first complaint at a location. “We do have set rules about how we’re supposed to respond, and it does state you get one warning,” APD Commander Michael Nyert told the Music Commission.


Music Commission Chair Brad Stein applauded that move. “We just want to be clear on what the enforcement procedure will be,” he said. “We want to make sure this line of communication stays open, and that everybody understands that those current rules say there is going to be a warning that is given.”

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