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City puts kibosh on new downtown special events

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Downtown Austin’s two favorite activities — construction and special events — may have finally pushed each other too far. Tuesday, city staff issued a memo that declared a moratorium on new downtown street events, effective immediately, due to the large number of construction projects taking place in the city.

As explained in the memo, the declaration is due to a number of factors, including ongoing capital improvement projects, “numerous large construction projects,” the realignment of Red River Street and what the memo describes as an “influx of underground utility work.”

Director of Transportation Robert Spillar and Special Events Program Manager William Manno sent the letter to City Council and city management Tuesday. Spillar has the authority to implement the moratorium without their approval.

City of Austin Senior Public Information Specialist Alicia Dean responded to the Austin Monitor’s questions about the moratorium via email. She explained that while there had been moratoriums issued in the past for street construction during major events (such as South by Southwest), there had never been one issued for new special events themselves.

The moratorium will apply only to new events, not those held in 2014. According to Dean, it will not impact events that have taken place in years past.

The physical area that will be affected by the change extends past the Central Business District. The moratorium will apply to the Downtown Austin Project Coordination Zone, which is bound by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the north, Oltorf Street on the south, MoPac Boulevard on the west and Chicon Street on the east.

According to the memo, in the last year there were “over 100 street events in this area.” Simultaneously — and in addition to numerous smaller projects — construction is currently taking place for the JW Marriott hotel, the Waller Creek Tunnel, the Colorado Tower, the Fairmont Hotel, the Westin Hotel, the Seaholm Redevlopment, the Central Library, the Green Water Treatment Plant and, soon, UT Austin’s Dell Medical School.

“Every weekend from September through mid-December and late February through June have special events currently in the permit process with multiple events scheduled on many of the days,” reads the memo. “Most of the events are annual events. The Austin Center for Events receives numerous requests weekly, however, and to add even more events/street closures to the downtown area would not be in keeping with our primary mission to maintain safe mobility within the city’s core.”

It continues: “Staff will review any pending applications for feasibility, but recommends no new events be added to the downtown calender for the next two years after which time City staff will re-evaluate the moratorium.”

The memo also explains that demonstrations and rallies will continue to be permitted pending review, and events outside of the Downtown Austin Project Coordination Zone would be allowed as long as there was adequate staff to handle them.

Dean said the city did “not anticipate that this moratorium will negatively impact other neighborhoods,” and explained that when the Austin Center for Events evaluates applications for newly proposed events outside of the Downtown Austin Project Coordination Zone, it would work with the organizations and neighborhoods on any identified concerns.


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