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Bat Fest promoters seek waiver of approval by businesses

Wednesday, August 6, 2008 by Mark Richardson

A group of small businesses near the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge is throwing a roadblock in the way of this year’s annual Bat Fest. The festival, which has drawn about 40,000 in past years, features live music, arts, crafts, food, bat watching, children’s activities, and educational displays.


This year’s festival is scheduled for the weekend of August 30- 31. In previous years, the festival’s promoters, Roadway Productions, have petitioned to have the city shut down the bridge for the festival. However, this year, they are running into problems with a group of small businesses on the southwest corner of the bridge, which are refusing to sign a petition that would allow bridge to be blocked off. .


“We’re not opposed to the Bat Fest, we’re just opposed to closing the bridge,” said G.G. Cordiero, owner of The Living Room, a furniture store on the south end of the bridge. “We are very unhappy with Roadway productions. Closing the bridge makes it impossible for our customers to do business with us.”


The promoter works in concert with Bat Conservation International, which provides an educational component to the event. The festival itself has up to 30 bands and some 150 booths to sell arts, crafts, food and other bat-themed items.


Of course, the main feature of the party is the sunset emergence of approximately one million Mexican free-tail bats from underneath the bridge.


Council Members Sheryl Cole and Laura Morrison are sponsoring a measure before Council this week to waive the requirement that Roadway Production get the approval of 80 percent of the applicable businesses. “I support all downtown tourist activities, especially those as unique as the Bat Fest. I would be in favor of waiving the signature requirement for this event,” Cole said


Festival promoter French Smith said not being able to close the bridge would hurt the festival.


“There are four businesses that are affected by the closure,” said French Smith with Roadway. “I need 80 percent of them to agree in order to shut down the bridge.  At least one of them has already said they won’t sign, so I’m going to have to get a waiver to have the festival.”


Cordiero said that her main concern was the ability of customers to be able to reach the store.


“We’re a locally-owned business who have been here for 16 years,” she said. “In the past years, despite promises from Roadway, they have blocked off our parking spaces, and set up music stages too close to our building. We just want to bridge to be left open for traffic.”


She added that she also had problems with Roadway cleaning up the area following the festival.


Following last year’s Bat Fest, Sherry Matthews, the owner of a marketing company with offices near the bridge, told city officials that the festival was a major hardship on her business.


“We support the Bat Fest, but it is causing us major problems. With that many people milling around, looking for parking and coming and going from the area, it makes it virtually impossible for a business to stay open,” she said. “There are no parking places, and the noise makes it impossible to get anything done.”


Matthews told the Planning Commission that the city needed to work out a compromise in time for this year’s festival, or the businesses in her area would not support it the way they have in the past.


Cordiero said she and other affected business owners plan to address the Council on Thursday to oppose the waiver.

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