Seattle City Hall is asking the Capitol Hill Block Party to clean up its act on its edges and will be conducting its own round of outreach to neighboring businesses and Pike/Pine residents “in order to better gather feedback on benefits and impacts” from the annual summer music festival “and other major Capitol Hill events,” city officials tell CHS.
Don’t expect there to be any financial mitigation. And there is zero chance the city will cancel permits for the 2019 event. But 2020 — and beyond — is another question.
“It is clear the Capitol Hill Block Party is economically beneficial to some Capitol Hill businesses, and culturally beneficial to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and Seattle,” Chris Swenson, who leads the city’s Special Events planning process, said in a statement sent to CHS. “It is also clear through feedback from Capitol Hill businesses and residents that the Capitol Hill Block Party is negatively economically impactful to other businesses and residents, and presents significant access and operations impacts to neighborhood businesses and residents.”
“The City and Committee take these impacts very seriously,” Swenson added.
For the 2019 Block Party, the city is requiring Block Party producers to make “several physical immediate improvements” including “streamlining access for employees and residents in and around the event perimeter” and “adjusting placement of portapotties and other operational elements to be less impactful to businesses and residents.” It will also require security staffing to be trained “to better support business and residential access.”
But in a message to neighborhood stakeholders sent Thursday, the city says for 2020 and beyond, it plans to consider larger changes to the festival including an effort to “assess the viability of this event in this neighborhood.”
Swenson said any talk of mitigation to cover costs and losses in the meantime, however, is off base. “The City of Seattle does not require any permitted event, including the Capitol Hill Block Party, to pay mitigation funds to impacted businesses or residents, does not charge permit fees to event organizers to then give to businesses or residents impacted by permitted events, and is not intending to change that policy.”
The announcement comes following CHS’s report on an effort led by Capitol Hill business owner and resident Rachel Ravitch to collect more information on the economic and community impact from the July music festival that officials say is “unique as the only ticketed three-day street festival in the country.”
Ravitch says she believes that producers and partners including Jason Lajeunesse, David Meinert and Block Party representatives bullied city officials and local businesses over the years and that collecting information could be the first step toward a plan for “mitigation for business loss” — including employees who miss out on wages.
Ravitch said that she was encouraged to survey the neighborhood following a November meeting with business owners, community members, and representatives from the city and its Office of Economic Development. But Swenson said the city will be undertaking its own outreach efforts.
“The upcoming independent survey/outreach is expected to provide insight on other current impacts that can be corrected for 2019,” he writes.
One person notably absent from the November meeting was Capitol Hill Block Party producer and the main partner in the businesses around the festival, Lajeunesse.
The meeting was conducted without him and other Capitol Hill Block Party representatives, participants tell CHS, because of concerns about retaliation in the neighborhood for speaking out against the festival which is lucrative and popular with the area’s nightlife venues including Lajeunesse’s Neumos and Comet Tavern.
Lajeunesse said he invites people with complaints to work with Block Party to address concerns:
Certainly we find it disappointing that some of the neighbors we provide mitigation solutions to and who we consider friends of the block party didn’t feel comfortable talking to us directly. We can only hope that they know our goal is to always come to equitable community solutions with our neighbors and plan to move forward down that path so we can continue to promote music and art in capitol hill and Seattle. Our door is always open and they know how to reach us. We’d be happy to talk to each of them individually about how we can best work together.
Tracy Taylor of Elliott Bay Book Company attended the November meeting and said she was surprised that Block Party representatives wouldn’t be part of the conversation. “It seemed extreme at first,” she tells CHS. “I then realized how real the fear was.”
“If you ever publicly came out against something that Meinert supported, he came after you,” she said.”
Meinert, the longtime face of Block Party, stepped aside when Lajeunesse took over the festival in 2012. This summer, he was forced to sell his stake in a handful of Pike/Pine businesses in the wake of sexual misconduct and rape accusations.
After a particularly challenging 2010 event for some local businesses, city officials asked Block Party organizers to work more closely local business owners and neighborhood residents. In 2011, Block Party reps including then-producer Meinert showed support from “51 of 56 businesses in the area” in convincing the city to allow Block Party to add a lucrative third day of acts to its bill. This July, the 22nd year of the Block Party again drew 10,000 per day to the festival held on the streets around the E Pike main stage at Broadway. In 2016, the Block Party marked 20(ish) years on E Pike. This year’s CHBP single-day tickets were $80 each counting fees.
Ravitch and others say that their fear of ending up on the wrong end of the Block Party’s neighborhood and citywide cultural connections continued even after the sale to Lajeunesse.
But the city says Block Party’s efforts to be a better neighbor have steadily improved helped by stronger oversight from City Hall. “Since 2012 when Special Events Committee oversight moved from Parks to the Office of Economic Development, Capitol Hill Block Party has shown year to year improvements to grow its work to support the Capitol Hill Pike/Pine neighborhood’s business and cultural identity,” Swenson said.
Much of that improvement has come through the work of the Seattle Arts and Music Group, the nonprofit formed in 2014 by Lajeunesse and Caffe Vita’s Mike McConnell “to support artists and like minded non-profit groups working in both the visual and music arts vocations through fund raising, infrastructure, promotion & networking.”
The tax-exempt nonprofit is the vehicle for around $20,000 in charitable giving per year from the duo. According to the most recent tax records available from 2016, it produced about $123,000 in revenue through hosting an unspecified venue at Block Party:
SEATTLE ARTS AND MUSIC GROUP HOSTS ONE OF THE VENUES AT THE SEATTLE MUSIC FESTIVAL WHICH FEATURES OVER 70 OF THE BEST NORTHWEST AND VARIOUS NATIONAL BANDS AND DJ’S. NET PROCEEDS OF THE EVENT ARE DONATED TO VARIOUS 501(C)(3) ORGANIZATIONS WITH THE GOAL OF PROMOTING MUSICIANS, MUSICAL EDUCATION AND MUSICAL PERFORMANCES.
In 2016, the nonprofit paid out $72, 000 in salary — Lajeunesse and McConnell are not compensated for their roles as governors of the organization, according to state records — and another $24,000 in costs. After the $20,000 in donations, it netted just over $6,000 for the year. You can read more about the nonprofit on its site at saamg.com.
Part of the $20,000 in giving goes to the Block Party’s annual support of the Capitol Hill Art Walk.
Capitol Hill Block Party began supporting the monthly walk in 2015 along with The Stranger and Starbucks allowing the event to continue without fees for participating venues. In 2011 before Lajeunesse took over the event, the production reportedly donated $20,000 “to area non-profits and make an additional to the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce to support economic development in the Pike/Pine area,” according to CHS’s report at the time. Block Party has also done more to integrate nearby businesses in recent years, including supporting ticket giveaways for customers and providing funding for chamber events like a “Holiday Hot Spot” shopping promotion in Pike/Pine a few Decembers ago.
Quick snap shot from east precinct luncheon today where we presented our friends at the the east precinct with a check for $4300 to purchase new event barricade carts. Safety first kids! #thanksforkeepingussafe #communitymatters pic.twitter.com/KjWgi2DrrV
— Capitol Hill Block Party (@CHBlockParty) December 14, 2018
Jeanine Anderson, who co-organizes the monthly event with Ghost Gallery’s Laurie Kearney, says it is “because of CHBP’s support and Jason’s assistance and participation that the Capitol Hill Art Walk has become what it is today” —
The CHBP sponsors the Capitol Hill art walk in a couple of different ways: $10,000 cash per year to contribute to operating costs. Additionally Jason Lejunesse arranged for Neumos to print our posters for free, and for Northwest Polite Society to put up the posters around town on poles, etc. also for free. Jason also directed Starbucks our way when Starbucks had initially asked about CHBP sponsorship opportunities. He was able to get them to sponsor the art walk with additional funds, which we have received from them for a few years now. Jason also used his neighborhood food and drink network to get bars and restaurants to offer a discount on art walk night, and finally, he introduced us to Tim Keck of the Stranger who provides us with advertising in print and online.
But Taylor of Elliott Bay Books says for all the good of art walk and its support of Pike/Pine nightlife venues, Block Party has become too much for E Pike to handle. The discussions with neighborhood businesses and residents need to be taken more seriously and the past rubber-stamping of permits for the event need new rigor, Taylor said.
“There’s a call for transparency for the city to pay attention and engage a little more about what Block Party has become,” she said.
Even past supporters are ready to rein the festival in.
“A lot of people are fed up with it,” Linda Derschang, the bar and restaurant entrepreneur and owner of just-outside-the-CHBP fence Oddfellows, tells CHS. “It used to be good for us but it’s not good any more.”
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