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Ott: Staff readying large-event recommendations

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 by Michael Kanin

As part of next year’s budget process, city staff will bring forward a set of recommendations that could change the way the city deals with fees and permits for Austin’s many special events. In what could mark something of a policy shift, City Manager Marc Ott said in a memo that “one of the key areas of focus” will be on “the prospect of developing multi-year agreements with large-scale event organizers.”

Ott wrote that “multi-year agreements have the potential to enable organizers as well as city staff to be in a better position to predict and control the impact of these events on our community. This would be in contrast to our current year-to-year approach, which consistently presents significant challenges to staff because the demands from these events vary annually.”

Ott’s remarks were part of a memo sent to Mayor Lee Leffingwell and City Council members Nov. 7.

The memo stems from a resolution brought forward by Council Members Kathie Tovo, Bill Spelman and Mike Martinez back in May. In it, they instructed Ott and staff to “investigate potential methods for funding costs associated with special events.”

The resolution makes specific mention of a special events fund that would “support small and moderately sized community events as well as provid(e) a more sustainable, consistent and analytical method of evaluating and providing support for large-scale events.”

It also specifically identified a list of stakeholders that were to be included in that conversation, including the Hotel Lodging Association and the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau. Though there are limits on what the city can use hotel/motel tax revenue for, it appears as though that source could be examined.

For her part, Tovo has in the past sought to find alternative sources to fund what are generally referred to as fee waivers that large-scale festivals receive. In February, she explored the idea of funding fee waivers through the city’s Economic Development Department.

In the memo, Ott notes that the city “continues to attract more and more special events each year,” and “at the same time, many of our historical special events have grown over the years in scope and intensity.”

Ott argues for more time to evaluate the situation. “Traffic congestion, alcohol consumption, crowd management, and allocation of resources continue to be a challenge,” he writes. “I believe we need to take a more in-depth examination on how to best manage the growth of large-scale events and thereby maintain Austin’s status as one of America’s most livable cities.”

Council members have yet to vote on long-in-coming changes to the city’s existing Special Events Ordinance. Members of the city’s Public Safety Commission declined to significantly weigh in in October.


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