Organizers of the Capitol Hill Block Party were told they must wait until after feedback has been gathered from a community meeting with residents and business owners before the Seattle Special Events Committee will move forward with their request for a permit for another three-day edition of the festival in 2011.
The decision was part of an hour-long session on Wednesday in which committee members from City of Seattle departments heard Block Party organizers review the 2010 festival and discuss plans for 2011. The committee members also heard public comment from six Pike/Pine business and property owners, many of whom said they supported the Block Party but had suffered significant negative impact from the festival’s growth into an event that organizers estimate attracted more than 27,000 attendees over its three-day run in 2010.
No residents were present at the midday session to offer comment.
Comment from the business owners present ran from highly rational to highly emotional. Elliott Bay Book Co. owner Peter Aaron offered this double-edged assessment of the 2010 festival, the first he had experienced with his move to Capitol Hill from Pioneer Square. “I was impressed with the way it was run,” Aaron said but added, “It cost us in the neighborhood of $22,000 in sales over the three days.” Aaron said he also had safety concerns for people running across Elliott Bay’s roof to sneak into the festival.
Cupcake Royale’s Jody Hall also said the Block Party, contrary to conventional wisdom, is bad for her business slicing revenue in half during its run. “It definitely hurts our business. It’s a bummer for our business,” Hall said. Like Aaron, she said she supports the idea of the Block Party — “I love the spirit of a community thing.” — but that there needed to be more done to lessen the impact to surrounding businesses that don’t directly benefit from the festival.
Also speaking was Michelle Cotton of East Pike’s Crescent Down Works and Anne Michelson Properties who sent the e-mail to Pike/Pine business owners asking for them to speak out against the Block Party we reported on earlier this week. “We’re totally opposed to it. One of our buildings is an old wooden building. We’re worried about its safety,” said Cotton, who along with Anne Michelson manages the Lorraine Court Apartments at 11th and Pike. But even Cotton had to admit that “last year there were real strides.”
Tino Perrina of Ferrari of Seattle, on the other hand, was angry, calling organizer David Meinert and his business partners arrogant for his portrayal of the Block Party to the events committee. “You guys are just sugarcoating this whole thing,” Perrina said. “This event has grown way too big.”
Meinert is head of Fuzed which along with Marcus Charles’s MDC Holdings operates Independent Event Solutions, the company behind the Block Party. Meinert also is a partner in Big Mario’s Pizza, a CHS advertiser.
For many of the businesses affected, Meinert and partners Grady Chapman and Jason Lajeunesse had logistical solutions that they said would help on a local scale for a business’s specific problems. For Perrina, for example, who Meinert said was right to be upset about the long line that stretched in front of his dealership on the first day of the 2010 festival, the 2011 event is already being planned to sell fewer tickets, have a more efficient gate system and to reduce the amount of will-call activity by introducing fees and establishing new ticketing locations in the city for people to buy and posses their tickets in advance.
Meinert said the ticketing process including the new ticketing locations will again be managed by the Stranger.
If there’s any business in the mix where the logistical challenges for improvement are most daunting, it’s the Lobby Bar, located at ground zero of the main stage zone on Pike. The Lobby’s Curtis Bigelow spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting and told details of his bar’s struggle to hold things together last summer. Bigelow said his business ended up “isolated” because of the closely packed crowd in front of the main stage and that the Lobby became the “de facto exit” and bathroom for many who did not want to fight the crowd and that others came into the bar injured and seeking aid. Bigelow said that even with all the business the Block Party brought into the Lobby that weekend, he believes the bar lost money because of the crowd. Even with the complaints, the Lobby Bar say it is a supporter of the Block Party and wants to work with Meinert and organizers to better handle the crowd in 2011 and make adjustments to some of the event’s configuration to improve conditions.
Logistical changes are already in motion. Meinert was told by committee representatives from Seattle Fire and Seattle Police that he’ll need to make sure the area around the main stage is a safer experience in 2011 by improving fire lanes and emergency access. This will mean the end of one Block Party tradition — the Shell station parking lot was specifically noted as an area that must be improved in 2011 because the crowd that gathers there has become too large and could block the emergency access to the main stage area, officials said. Meinert said he plans to work with the station’s owner to have security keeping the lot clear in 2011. Another needed change is the establishment of a better process to control volume when acts get too loud, one City rep said.
The events committee includes representatives from Seattle Police and Fire, the health department, Department of Planning and the Seattle Department of Transportation. Some of these representatives will meet with Block Party organizers for an on-site walk-through to work out details of more safety and logistical improvements in 2011.
Beyond the logistical improvements for specific businesses and safety improvements, Meinert said he is also hopeful to find a way to make sure the Block Party benefits Pike/Pine businesses and the community even if the local improvements can’t save every business’s bottom line. One solution he said was suggested to him by developer Michael Malone was channeling some of the Block Party’s charitable giving to the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and earmarking that money for projects in the Pike/Pine area. Meinert said he and Chamber executive director Michael Wells will be talking soon about the idea.
Wells also spoke at the events committee meeting on Wednesday. “The Block Party is a huge success story,” Wells said. “It’s an important piece of the fabric of Capitol Hill.” Wells also said there needs to be more and better communication around the event. “For many, it’s a very lucrative event but for others it is negative. More communication is key.”
Committee chair Joanne Orsucci agreed saying the committee couldn’t make a decision on the 2011 permit and the question of whether the Block Party had outgrown East Pike until after Block Party organizers meet with the Pike/Pine community to discuss the festival. The date for that session has not yet been set but Meinert said that he has gathered contact information for most every business and resident in the area to let them know about the meeting. He also told CHS that we’ll be on the list when the date for the community meeting is determined.
Assisting Meinert in this will be Virginia Swanson, former Special Event coordinator for the City of Seattle who is now working as a consultant for the Block Party. Swanson used to be in charge of the permitting process for the event — this year, she’ll be on the organizer side of the table as the community weighs in on its future.
For a sneak peek at some of the thoughts about the Block Party that will come up in the community process, check out the comments on our CHBP post from earlier this week. There are some cheap shots and low blows in there — but there are also some cool ideas and heartfelt suggestions.