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Task force studies new rules for downtown events

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Street Closure Task Force is moving closer to drafting a recommendation to the City Council for new rules for holding events downtown. At Monday night’s meeting, members discussed how to define who is affected by street closures and came to a tentative agreement on whether to recommend limiting the number of events downtown.

 

Although members voted to endorse establishing a cap on the number downtown events requiring a street closure each year, they did not get into a discussion on what the annual limit on street closures downtown should be.

 

“The issue is…among the promoters, there’s an assumption that you have a right to have your event downtown, that you’re entitled to shut down the downtown,” said task force member David Merhar, who serves as the business administrator for St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Austin. Setting a cap on the total number of times a particular street could be closed each year, he said, could force some event organizers to make adjustments. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not going to have their event…it would just mean they wouldn’t have it downtown.”

While supporting the concept of a cap, some members also pointed out that different events had different levels of impact on downtown businesses and organizations. A single event could last for several days, or multiple smaller events could be held on a single day. There appeared to be a consensus that establishing a recommended limit would require further discussion and that the cap should be closely monitored if it is ever established as city policy.

 

The task force also discussed the concept of ranking events. Certain long-standing events with cultural or economic significance could be deemed “iconic” events. Under one scenario under discussion, those types of events would not count toward the annual cap. However, members of the task force specifically voted against creating a category for “grandfathered” events, with several members stating they would still like to see major street-closure events go through the city’s process.

 

Much of the meeting was spent defining who would constitute an affected party when a street is closed. The conclusion was that an affected location would be defined as one where access is affected by a street closure. The group also approved, on first reading, a measure to define affected parties as persons whose access is impacted by a street closure. The task force decided to use the definition of a neighborhood association under the current city regulations as its basis for defining an affected organization. Members plan several more meetings before making their final recommendations to the City Council this fall.

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