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SXSW after-action report promises changes

Friday, September 5, 2014 by Michael Kanin

Big changes could be coming to the city’s South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival, according to a report released by the city Thursday.

The report, compiled at the behest of City Council members in the wake of the March 2014 fatal traffic accident, offers more than 30 specific changes centered around the way in which city officials enforce events rules and regulations.

Among the “staff action items” are stricter interpretations of rules that would limit temporary outdoor music events to a stopping time of 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. They also include a call to “ensure that all temporary event sound permits within 600 feet of residences do not exceed cutoff times of 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends.”

Staff will also look to reset its Outdoor Music Venue permit as an Entertainment Permit. The Entertainment Permit would “require brick-and-mortar businesses with annual permits to obtain the new Entertainment Permit for live performances during Spring Festival Season.”

“I think people are starting to realize the enormous task of what it takes to manage … major events,” City Special Events Manager Bill Manno told the Monitor on Thursday, adding that “we do hundreds of events a year.”

The latter item is listed under a category headlined “Impact of queuing of lines into open streets.” Earlier this year, a motorist drove through a crowd waiting outside of a music venue during the festival, killing four people and injuring many others. The driver, Rashad Owens, has been indicted, but not convicted, on one count of capital murder, four counts of felony murder and 24 counts of aggravated assault in the March 13 incident.

Manno said he and his team have heard in the past that “what happens outside my doors in not my concern.” Manno disagreed, saying, “Yes, you do have that responsibility.”

According to the report, other stricter enforcement of existing code will include provisions that call for event organizers and promoters to “as required by Fire Code … provide trained crowd managers for facilities or events where more than 1,000 people are projected to attend.” It also calls for a host of traffic control changes and notes that city officials will further limit the amount of permits awarded during this year’s SXSW.

Manno noted that there are “a lot of questions out there” in the wake of news about the changes. He suggested it would be impossible to tell what events might or might not be permitted until they have been reviewed by staff.

Overall, Manno said that “from a 20,000-foot perspective, we’re trying to create a situation where we have events over a longer period of time, not crammed in” to the last few hours of an evening.

As for the long-delayed Council review of the city’s Special Events Ordinance, Manno said he’s targeted Council’s Sept. 25 meeting.

According to Manno, staff are already implementing many of the closer interpretations — the staff actions — detailed in the report. Other suggested changes, such as an increase in the city’s budget for its PACE team — a cross-departmental enforcement unit, currently pulled out only at key festivals, whose street presence Manno would like to boost to an additional 30 weeks out of the year — would depend on Council approval.


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