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Special events ordinance visits city legal for review

Tuesday, October 2, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

After six years of work, on May 10, City Council passed the special events ordinance, which revamps the city’s regulations covering special events. The ordinance was intended to replace portions of the city’s sound and traffic control code and create a streamlined process for planning and regulating events through the multi-department Austin Center for Events. However, criticism was levied against the one-size-fits-all approach that some stakeholders saw it implementing. So, in an effort to take the public’s concerns into consideration, although the ordinance was declared effective on May 21 of this year, it will be officially implemented on April 1, 2019, giving staff plenty of time for a robust community engagement process around the ordinance. One of the biggest challenges that the ordinance is grappling with, city spokesperson Alicia Dean told the Public Safety Commission at their Oct. 1 meeting, is the implementation of a tier system that classifies events into one of four tiers based on their crowd size, duration, physical footprint and use of city resources. The team is “look(ing) at the structure of our fees (to) see what we can do to incorporate more affordability,” she said. Other considerations include improvements to the ease of the application process and the eventual creation of a dedicated events application portal where permitting, payment and approvals can be traced electronically. After the ordinance heads up to the city’s legal department to make sure that everything is shipshape, the rules will be posted for a 30-day public comment period after which staff will revise the rules accordingly. “The goal is to have everything finalized by February 2019, knowing that March is extremely busy,” said Dean. Getting the policy in place and working properly is a priority for those in Austin’s lucrative special and corporate events industries, which see huge bumps in business during the spring festival season which includes South by Southwest. However, Dean noted that “Austin Center for Events doesn’t anticipate implementing a sweeping new application process upon the April 1, 2019, implementation of the SEO.”

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