At Monday night’s community meeting to collect feedback and try to bridge the gap between Pike/Pine business owners who want to see the Capitol Hill Block Party scaled back and the businesses and festival producers who want to see it continue to grow in stature if not size, there were a few moments of progress. And when a fully employed, well-spoken young person explained that she now worked at a bank and lived on the Hill because of the Block Party, well, we all could see the glimmer of a hopeful future.
“I’m one of those people who got drawn because of Capitol Hill Block Party,” Ashley Keates said.
This intersection of the Cha Cha and Cupcake Royale is the reality of Pike/Pine. And while the rep from Cha Cha who pointed out that Cupcake Royale benefits from the draw of the Hill might have come off as a little abrasive — “There’s a reason your cupcake store is part of this neighborhood. It’s been popularized.” — his point was never negated during the evening. We built this city on rock and roll.
The community session was organized by the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with Block Party producer Dave Meinert as he goes through the permitting process to try to secure a third day for the festival for a second year. The goal Meinert said Monday was to collect feedback for the festival producers to review and then provide an updated plan to the city as part of their application for the 2011 3-day festival permit. Meinert said there will be another meeting in April where specific solutions and logistics will be discussed.
Many of Monday’s speakers represented music and nightlife establishments in the neighborhood who clearly stand to gain financially from a successful Block Party but also provided honest testimony on the value they see CHBP bringing to Pike/Pine and the neighborhood. Mike Meckling of Neumos said he employs 70 people full-time for the three-day run of the festival and that his summer business depends on the Block Party’s success. “We will bring thousands of people into the neighborhood,” Meckling said.
The Stranger publisher Tim Keck – who also stands to benefit financially from the festival as his company handles ticketing for the event — also spoke on behalf of the Block Party. Keck said he’s proud of Pike/Pine. “This neighborhood has really blossomed and done great,” he said. “It’s a big love letter to… our neighborhood.”
Others who said they lived and worked in the neighborhood pointed to the amazing track record of the festival when it comes to safety — no major incidents insider or around the festival in its history — and to the rite of passage it represents to the many musicians who have been part of the neighborhood by day, rocked it from its stages at night and eventually made it to the Block Party spotlight.
We covered a January session of the Seattle Special Events Committee where a group of Pike/Pine business owners spoke out against the growth of the music festival and asked the committee to consider the event’s impact to the neighborhood’s economy. Some, such as Elliott Bay Book Company’s Peter Aaron, claimed big — Aaron said $20,000 — losses the weekend of the 2010 CHBP.
Though Aaron wasn’t in atteandance, many of the same businesses were again represented Monday night in the Odd Fellows West Hall. “While Neumos is employing 20 additional people, I’m sending 20 home,” 12th and Union’s Ferrari of Seattle’s Tino Perrina said. In January, Perrina said the festival should be moved out of the neighborhood but at Monday’s meeting he offered no such demands.
Cupcake Royale’s Jody Hall said, “I love the idea of the Capitol Hill Block Party. It’s such a galvanizer of the coolest neighborhood in Seattle.” But she added, “It’s odd that a festival can just take over the street at the expense of other businesses.” She also asked, rhetorically, what would happen if she organized a kid’s sprinkler party on the streets of Pike/Pine. We know what would happen. We’d be there with our floaties on, that’s what.
The summary case for the five or six businesses most negatively impacted by the Block Party? Their businesses get hurt on very specific, very individual levels. Meinert and crew said Monday night they are eager to, in turn, work out very specific, very individual solutions. “How does this festival benefit a Ferrari business? It doesn’t,” CHBP’s Jason Lajeunesse acknowledged. But he said he respects the problem and wants to work with Perrina to make 2011 a better experience for his dealership. CHS has a suggestion: official VIP Fioranos. And one for local media, too.
Solutions like VIP Ferraris and kiddie sprinkler parties weren’t raised — directly — during a discussion on possible mitigation for businesses that suffer during the planned 3-day event. But we say put them on the list. Here’s what the crowd did suggest:
- Parking is a problem. Added bus service is needed that weekend
- Exterior security (what could security do outside the gates?)
- A hotline to call if there’s a problem
- More regular clean-up
- Opportunities for partnership with 12th Ave festival
- Reduce sneaking in to keep crowd manageable
- Improve festival footprint and access to storefronts
- Increased security and garbage while it CHBP is in session
- Set-up during business hours is a problem. Do set-up during off-hours?
- Handbooks for musicians and touring parties with neighborhood shop guide and deals
But our favorite idea of the night was a solution that would tie the Block Party to a year-round event that would also benefit the neighborhood merchants negatively impacted by the festival. Ellen Forney of the Capitol Hill arts walk said she would welcome the Block Party’s support. Organizer Meinert has already said he wants to work with the Chamber to redirect some of the Block Party’s nonprofit giving to the specific area of the Hill affected by the event. The monthly arts walk is pretty darned good promotional vehicle for art spaces, galleries and, yes, cupcake stores that might not do as well during Block Party. We vote yes on that one. We also recently offered up some ideas on how the walk could be improved. Money from the Block Party would definitely help.
We’re also, by the way, very much in support of more and better information on the Capitol Hill Block Party Web site. CHS received dozens of calls in 2010 because http://www.capitolhillblockparty.com didn’t list simple things like a ticketing contact phone number. Frustrated, people would search for CHBP information, find our articles about the festival and call us in desperation.
With that as example, it’s not the effort of a few people who hate music and nightlife that will hold the Block Party back. It’s things like not putting a phone number on the site that are partly to blame for the challenges — though, yes, it was clear Monday that there were, too, some people who just don’t want to rock. “Maybe Block Party hasn’t been as involved as they should have been in previous years,” Lajeunesse said about not having worked with the Chamber more in the past. It’s OK, Jason. It’s all change. The Block Party has grown into a big amazing thing. In 2011, it seems like the path is set for another legendary 3-day festival. There doesn’t need to be any bad guys. But, yeah, there might be a boring meeting or two along the way.
Dave Meinert is a partner in Big Mario’s Pizza, a current CHS advertiser.
Dave Meinert is a partner in Big Mario’s Pizza, a current CHS advertiser.