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Capitol Hill Block Party in Cal Anderson? Business owner calls for move as city considers 2011 fest

Block Party 2008 (Image: Andrew G. Davis via Flickr)

With an added third day of music and some 27,000 attendees through the gate, on the stage and behind the beer stands last summer, the Capitol Hill Block Party comes before the Seattle Special Events Committee on Wednesday to review the 2010 festival and talk with City of Seattle officials about plans for 2011. Joining an agenda that includes the Irish Heritage Club’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade and a slew of Seattle marathons and 10K runs, organizers for the annual music festival, East Precinct and Department of Neighborhood officials and representatives from Pike/Pine businesses will discuss the annual music event and its impact on the Pike/Pine neighborhood.

It’s hard to see the 2010 event as anything but massively successful for organizers Dave Meinert and Grady Chapman as the Block Party was able to add a third day and achieve the largest attendance — Meinert supplied the official tally noted above — in its more than a decade of existence. But some local business owners were concerned last summer as organizers scrambled to get the city to allow the third day — and that concern has continued into 2011 as plans are made for this summer’s fest.

Michelle Cotton of East Pike’s Crescent Down Works and Anne Michelson Properties sent an e-mail to Pike/Pine business owners about Wednesday’s meeting encouraging their feedback:

It will be important for the neighborhood to come together to discuss how this event impacts our lives and our livelihoods so that that information can be taken into account by the committee when making their decisions regarding the length and format of this huge event. We would like to encourage you to attend and be heard.

Cotton, who will speak at Wednesday’s meeting, could not reply to questions from CHS but Anne Michelson tells us she is eager for PIke/Pine businesses to have a say in shaping the Block Party — and that shaping should start with a move to the Bobby Morris playfield in Cal Anderson Park:

We are really glad that we are finally getting a say in this.  A lot of our small retail in the block party area are seriously hurt by this event.  we are hoping that it can happen on Pine and in the Bobby Morris playfield and that it is only Friday afternoon and Saturday, not Sunday.  But if somehow that can’t happen and it does happen on Pike, the affected retail needs to be reimbursed.  This is a for-profit event and our small alternative type businesses are getting clocked.  There is only 15 minutes allotted for us at this meeting, but we are hoping that Michelle can say her piece.

Michelson notes that she organized the first Block Party in 1993 — we wrongly pegged the year to 1997 here — when she owned the skateboard shop at 11th and Pike. “It was a free summer party for our alternative neighborhood, don’t know what happened!” she writes.

The Block Party’s Meinert (who also owns Neumos (see comment) and CHS advertiser Big Mario’s Pizza among other food, drink and music ventures in the city) says he is aware of the criticism and also hopes to improve the Block Party in 2011.

“My goal for this year is to work on ways to make the festival a better experience for those attending, which will mean more money spent on production, signage, and probably fewer tickets sold,” Meinert tells us.

He also provided his take on the Special Events Committee process that will start playing out with Wednesday’s meeting:

Usually these meetings review the permit application, review the previous year, discuss the next year, then set some parameters for getting the permit. They are open to the public and anyone who wants to can show up and tell how the support or object to the event. Typically only people with objections show up, and I expect some to as at least one neighborhood person (who wasn’t at the festival) has been organizing local businesses to attend and oppose the event.

2010 was an experiment on the festival having 3rd day. Most successful music festivals have been moving in this direction, with Sasquatch even adding a 4th day this year (we won’t be trying that!). Some things worked great, some things didn’t and need to be fixed. The Block Party is a unique event in that it occurs in a neighborhood with a variety of businesses, residents, parking lots, bus lines, etc. So it’s a complicated process to try to put the event together in a way that makes everyone happy. At the meeting, that gets discussed by all the different Seattle departments.

I expect we’ll set some parameters for 2011 – then we’ll have some time to meet them in order for the permit to be granted. We started the process as early as possible this year so we have plenty of time to meet with the neighborhood and work out any issues. This meeting is really the start of that process. We plan on having two community meetings before the festival so everyone can have plenty of input.

My desire going in to the meeting is to make as many people happy with the festival as possible. Certain people in the neighborhood hate nightllife and will oppose the festival no matter what format it takes. Others have legitimate concerns that we need to work hard to mitigate. Ultimately, other than having a great, entertaining, fun and safe music festival, I want the event to benefit and support the  South Capitol Hill neighborhood and its unique culture. We’ll be finding new and improved ways to do that every year.

In addition to organizers Meinert and Chapman and business owner Cotton, also scheduled to be available during the Block Party agenda item at Wednesday’s committee meeting are SPD reps from the East Precinct, Andy Rees from the Union Street Co-op, and Tino Perrina from Ferrari of Seattle.

CHS will attend Wednesday’s committee session. Look for an update on what comes next for the Capitol Hill Block Party later this week.

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36 thoughts on “Capitol Hill Block Party in Cal Anderson? Business owner calls for move as city considers 2011 fest

  1. J – actually I don’t own Neumos. I am partners in Big Mario’s, own the 5 Point, Fuzed Music, Fuzed travel, and Onto Entertainment. But not Neumos. Neumos is a big supporter of the festival though.

  2. The festival has pretty regular issues with crowd flow, mainly because it’s situated on city streets narrowed by partitioning into “21+ and “all ages” zones, often with long lines flowing in and out of each. That said, the character of the event would change a lot if it were moved to Pine & the park since Pike has a lot more bars, restaurants, and venues that were part of last year’s festival.

    I’d always imagined that the festival couldn’t be in Cal Anderson/Bobby Morris for structural reasons. Isn’t the park just a thin reservoir lid? I wonder if it’s rated for heavy stage equipment and 10,000 people? As for the field, I wonder how well the artificial turf would hold up to that level of foot traffic.

    Is there any evidence that the block party severely hurts neighborhood businesses? They always seem very very busy during that block party weekend.

  3. Correct – according the Parks Department, the event couldn’t happen in Cal Anderson due to the reasons you state. And Bobby Morris playfield is designated for sports only, and the $400,000 playing surface isn’t built for the foot traffic a festival would bring to it.

    To help with crowd flow this year we’ll be letting fewer people in, and having better signage. That said, it’s a festival, and crowds and lines are part of it.

  4. Meinert, please do something about the will call line this year. Last year the line was hundreds of people long and over an hour wait. If you can’t staff will call enough to avoid that, then you should have a big red, flashing warning on the ticket purchase page advising people that they should buy paper tickets. And ideally you should remove the surcharge for paper tickets. The reason so many people do will call is because they’re trying to avoid the additional charge for mailed tickets.

  5. Yup, we realize this was a huge issue. This was the first year we sold so many advance tickets that were will call, so a new issue for us. And a problem not just for ticket holders, but for employees of businesses in the festival, and businesses whose entrances were blocked by the line. We fixed this that day, and Saturday and Sunday lines were non-existent. But, we’re working on other ways to ensure this problem never happens again – from having more physical ticket outlets, to enabling people to be able to print tickets at home. So know this won’t be an issue again.

  6. That’s too bad, I think it would have been great have this in the park! I’ve been going to this for 10 years and agree: the crowding and crowd flow issues are extreme for all the reasons noted. This year topped out with a fight and people trapped by it with no way to exit through the crowd or over the under-age fence. Scary.
    Note on lines: please bring back advanced paper ticket sales available at a local shop, ANY shop. Asking people to leave work early to avoid long will call lines doesn’t seem fair.

  7. I’m sure that getting rid of 21+ zone that reaches into mainstage viewing area might not be popular with the drinking class, but it seems like removing or reshaping it could make traffic flow a lot less troublesome and dangerous.

    How is it that Sasquatch can operate without separate areas for all ages/21+, but Bumbershoot/CHBP are cut up by fences?

  8. I understand why they can’t move it too the park, but hopefully they can move the main stage. A lot of people I’ve talked too, miss the old set up where it was in the intersection in front of Neumos. Having it at the end of street butted up against Broadway, really sucks. Everyone is stuck in there like cattle, and almost dangerous to be in the crowd with NO WAY OUT but to back up.

    The option is to watch from way back by the beer gardens. It’s made it so my friends and I don’t even bother to stay for the main acts, as we can’t see them anyway.

    Anyway, just my $.02. No matter what, I’ll keep going to the festival. I haven’t missed a year yet, and I don’t plan on it.

  9. I’d imagine the basis of Anne Michelson’s statement that the block party is hurting local small business is more that she is passive-aggressively reacting to the commercialization of her free baby block party. Reimbursing lost business?!? Give us a break, Anne – how can you show which business it is that you lost that you need reimbursement for? Will the customers that didn’t show up to your store because of the block party sign sworn statements regarding what they WOULD have purchased that day? Let me paraphrase your position: “NIMBY!”

    Roll on, Block party!

  10. I’d strongly urge the organizers of the block party to come before the Capitol Hill Community Council (third Thursday of each month) to request the community’s input and present proposed changes to the residential community, as well.

    I’m a resident and pro-block party, but I think it’s not without its faults that need to be addressed. In all fairness, Meinert and company should make the rounds.

    Don’t you agree CHCC? As residents, property owners, employees, volunteers and students on the Hill we’re all members.

    Just sayin’.

    p.s. Consider this a recommendation to the officers of the Council to extend the invitation to the CHBP organizers.

  11. There are pens for the drinkers on some stages. At the mainstage the adults are treated as such. — Whoops read your comment wrong. My apologies.

  12. I realize no one really cares what the residents of the area think…but honestly, I wish the Block Party was an actual, you know, Block Party for the neighborhood and not a huge regional attraction. The setting in the middle of the Hill on our local streets is not appropriate to such a large event. People who actually live here get all the negatives — traffic, noise, trash, no parking… and no benefits at all as far as I can tell. I suppose it’s more convenient to go, but that’s only if there are bands worth the cover charge.

  13. I live a few blocks away. Even at times I don’t go (due to bad acts) I still appreciated the energy it brings to the neighborhood. One. Weekend. A. Year. Sometimes diversity means you may, for one weekend a year, be moved out of your comfort zone. And yeah, the jackoffs from Bellevue that come to fight are, well, jackoffs. But you can’t ban people from public events. I mean, think of the children.

  14. @14 Ave: As a resident you can apply for a street use permit and throw your own block party if that’s what you’re looking for. Hell, on National Night Out it’s free! Have you tried it? We do each year and it’s a blast.

    Yeah the name “block party” is not entirely accurate but many residents of the Hill enjoy it and go each year. I’m one of them. I have enjoyed a good 1/3 of the line up each year since i started attending (about 8 years ago) and I avoid seeing what I don’t like. It’s that simple. I love that I can swing home, grab a meal or chill out for a few hours in between bands I’m not as interested in.

    I think the crowd flow still needs work and last year’s will call was SFU, but I give the organizers credit for listening and responding to many critical comments. Sounds like there’s still work do be done with the business community, but don’t assume that all residents are opposed to this infusion of activity in the neighborhood. In fact, I’m sure that many (like myself) moved here for that very reason!

  15. I am a 52-year-old single mother of two who lives almost directly above the Main stage, and I think the music/energy/excitement is great, and easily tolerable for one weekend a year. My kids and their friends absolutely love the chance to have front-row seats to the really interesting music and fantastic people-watching. I do agree that the crowd-packing in front of the main stage looks extremely dangerous, and wish something could be done to make that more safe. With the exception of those determined to fight, to damage my apartment building, or use any excuse to act like idiots, the Block Party is a ton of fun!

  16. And I cannot believe that the block party really does any real financial harm to the local businesses. That sounds like a very weak argument, and something that would be extremely difficult to prove. I see the businesses thriving during the block party, with more business than they would have on a non-block party weekend.

  17. uh, Crescent Down Works is retail? Since when? I thought it was just where they MAKE goods, not sell them.

    Anne Michelson HATES night life and noise and lives on Pike. (All facts; she told me so herself once.) It’s not about business with her, it’s strictly NIMBY. She’s perfectly happy for the event to move ONE BLOCK over to PINE and disrupt THOSE businesses, or to the park where it will impact hundreds of residents. She’s just being selfish because she enjoys the convenience of living in one of her own buildings and thinks Pike should be “quiet” for her personal comfort level. That, or she’s too cheap to buy a house in a residential neighborhood.

  18. Come on down! Our agenda is full for this month’s meeting (talking about public safety with representatives of Sound Mental Health and many others) but we could fit a block party discussion into one of the upcoming months.

    The council meeting is every third thursday from 7-9 at the Cal Anderson Shelter House (or we move to the Elliot Bay Cafe if no one from the parks dept lets us into the Shelter).

    Meinert et al – message me if you want a spot on a council agenda (

    ps- you can follow the Council happenings via the facebook page:

  19. I could see where a few small boutique businesses might be affected to a small degree, but bars/restaurants for BLOCKS around make money from people coming and going. This is ALL about Anne Michelson HATING noise. Believe me, I know…

  20. Not to mention, Anne has never been to the Block Party. She is at her estate in Mexico during that time of year. And she probably won’t attend the meeting today as she is probably there now too.

  21. I love the Block Party. It is hands down one of my favorite parts of the summer. I have lived in Capitol Hill for almost 20 years and in the Pike/Pine for 10. There are logistical issues during this weekend, but I have never felt like it was a unwelcome disruption. However, it is obvious that this even has negative impact on non-restaurant business in the area.

    Business like Retrofit and Retail Therapy get some additional walk in traffic during this event, but it does not translate into sales. Because many restaurants in the area have to the ability to switch to high-volume service to take advantage of the festival they do make money on the event. Think about it—are you more likely to buy a rug or a slice of pizza and a beer?

    I know the Block Party organizers have reached out to these business owners, but there is only so much that they can do when there is a huge barrier fence blocking access to your shop.

    Here’s a suggestion to the organizers. Open the venue up to include a real market and offer free booths for business owners who are directly blocked by the event infrastructure. It would be a great way to grow the event beyond music and give these business owners the tools to take advantage of the event in a positive way.

    Oh, on a side note—please get a taller stage. I am 5’10” and couldn’t see a damn thing 50 ft away from the stage. That was my only bummer about the whole event last year.

  22. I appreciate all the folks supporting the Block Party, but let’s be careful not to turn this into an issue with two sides fighting each other. This is a community issue, and the community in question is an eclectic mix of residents, a variety of small businesses, and yes, even building owners. Everyone’s voice is important and needs to be heard.

    We want the Block Party to be a celebration that brings everyone in the neighborhood together to celebrate, not to divide. We are constantly trying to find a way to make this happen.

    There are many, many businesses who are helped greatly by the Block Party, including many non-profits. For others, the event is just a logistical pain in the but. For a few, it costs them some sales. Our goal is to at least alleviate that pain in some way. And we’re working on that.

    The same with residents. Many love the event and attend it. Others leave town for the weekend. Some can’t leave town, and have serious issues that arise from the event. We need to take all of these people into consideration in our planning. On balance, we’re doing an ok job with this and are striving to do better.

    The most important thing is for everyone to support the small businesses on Capitol Hill. Shop, eat and drink local. Get your friends to come shop on the Hill. We want places like Everyday Music, Elliott Bay Books, The Square Room, Retail Therapy, etc, operating successfully and being a part of our community. We at the Block Party own and work at small businesses in this area, and we value all the others doing the same.

    So let’s all come together and be creative in coming up with positive solutions to make events like the Block Party, Pride, etc, work for everyone.

  23. Agreed. We’ve been trying to do this, and with some limited success. This year I am trying to find someone to help organize a little free festival outside of the main festival, possibly on 10th, more towards Pine, for more booths, but something everyone could go to for free. We’ll see if an how that works. But we’re trying to find creative solutions like this for sure. Please feel free to offer them up, we’re listening.

  24. the last time I went to block party, it was full of fratty douchebags and their annoying trendy belltown girlfriends anyway. I think the soul of block party has passed away many years ago, and given the main portion of the audience, would be better off in some other neighborhood.

    too bad, the music was awesome. keep capitol hill weird!

  25. There are some good points on both sides of the argument. It has gotten pretty big. So much so that I plan to not be in town every year for that weekend. I really enjoy the idea of CHBP, but not at the scope it is at. It’s more like the gorge at capitol hill.

  26. I lived in Minneapolis and St. Paul Minnesota for a year. They really know how to throw block parties there, or at least they did when I lived there back in the mid-90s. I hope things haven’t changed. All the block parties I went to were huge AND free. You could move from block to block and stage to stage and beer garden to beer garden and food stand to food stand.

    So it was with great enthusiasm that I attended the first Capitol Hill Block Party and I thought it was pretty cool. I don’t think the population of the city knew how cool it was, though, as it was sparsely attended. The next year I was disappointed to see that caged areas were erected around the stages with black fabric on them so that no one could see what was going on inside…and that one had to pay to get into those areas and beer gardens.

    Now I almost miss those couple of years where there was a combination of free areas to walk around in, free music stages, and the paid admission beer garden and music areas/venues. I don’t like how the whole block of blocks is literally now blocked off. This is the antithesis of what a community block party should be: free and open to the…COMMUNITY.

    I understand that the block party has become a money-making festival and/or a festival with ambition that needs money from the community to fund its musical acts and participants…but I would prefer if things returned to how they were in the early days. I would love to be able to walk around the festival on days I don’t want to pay to see music if there isn’t anything that interests me on those days. I love people watching and love the feeling the neighborhood streets have when you find yourself walking around areas where there is usually traffic.

    What I do not like is the feeling of being trapped inside the block party area and I would think that there are MANY people who live in the neighborhood who feel the same way. The past few years I feel like I am in the middle of one big beer garden and each year it’s gotten uglier and uglier and uglier. I’m not yet old enough to feel out of place going to these types of music festivals, but this past year I looked around at all the drunken ugliness taking place around me and thought to myself, dude, you PAID for this?

    Move the main stage back to where it was across from The Comet. It was better to be able to move to the various areas around the stage in its old position than how it has been set up the last few years. I feel like it excludes more listeners and viewers…

    Return to having several free blocks with at least one or two with their own free music stages…

    Embrace Bumbershoot’s model. By that I mean, that there is space to walk around the grounds in addition to going into the various music venues. There could be a few musical acts at the Broadway Performance Hall, for example, and with some cooperation from Seattle Central perhaps there could be a music stage on the brick walk outside of the performance hall and campus…free and open.

    Utilize Pine in addition to Pike…make Pine a free zone/free street where the booths are located…try to coordinate things with the art walk people–gallery owners and artists…turn the street into a big three day gallery walk…utilize the Oddfellows Hall stage and auditorium. Utilize the small theatres in the block party’s vicinity. I’d also like to see a better array of food offerings…last year seemed kind of disasterous in this regard…

    So, to sum up: make Pine the free zone street. Perhaps return a stage to the corner of Pine and 11th…make this a free stage…with 11th returning to the beer garden street it used to be…11th has numerous bars that used to be part of the block party action but which are now outside the action…each of them can have their own mini-music festivals within if they were given better access and integrated into the block party at large. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALL THE STREETS IN THE BLOCK PARTY AREA! Spread things out a bit, let people breathe, let the festival breathe.

    As for Cal Anderson Park, it’s obviously unrealistic to utilize the part of the park that is the shell covering the old reservoir, but every summer in the part of the park between the soccer field and the reservoir there are numerous music festivals and film screenings…this could be another free area or a three day open mike for music or poetry stage…

    It just seems like the options you have to make the Capitol Hill Block Party something that everyone in the community could enjoy are very obvious and easy. Let Bumbershoot be Bumbershoot and let the Capitol Hill Block Party serve its neighborhood well.

    I much prefer living here to living in Minnesota, but we seem pretty naive and amateurish in our approach to block parties compared to how they plan things every summer.

    And last, there’s no reason that some of us who live on the hill couldn’t get together and throw an alternative Capitol Hill Block Party that fulfills all of the desires we might have for it that the current incarnation of the other Capitol Hill Block Party can’t fulfill.

    On a personal note, the last time I had a good time at the block party was three summers ago when a friend’s band played on one of the small stages. I ended up on their list, which got me a VIP bracelet when the VIP area was in the center of the block party when the main stage was next to Neumo’s. It was pure joy…NOT because the beer and pizza were free, but because the VIP area felt more congenial than the other areas of the block party.

    Your goal, Mr. Meinert, shouldn’t be just to put on a memorable music event, but to make everyone feel like a VIP and not like they’re being forced to subject themselves to the rules of ill repute that seem to be the norm for every crowded caged beer garden in the universe. And no one who lives in the neighborhood should be made to feel like an outsider in their own neighborhood because of the block party.

    This shouldn’t be hard to do.

  27. The issue of some of the smaller biz in the area should have been addressed a long time ago. The organizers should either A. move the fences off the side walk so that EVERYONE can visit the shops, bars and restaurants or B. move the “party” off the hill and into a larger venue. In these hard economic times the organizers need to not just think of themselves but also the negative impact they are having on small biz in the area. A large amount of foot traffic does not always mean big sales for some retailers. When one biz loses $22,000 in a weekend well that is a big loss and one that should be taken into consideration. I wonder if the organizers have thought of moving the thing to Volunteer Park? Or down to the Seattle Center?

  28. I live near the block party and I had a business the first three years of the festival. I love my neighborhood and did think that Block Party was a great thing at first even though it totally ruined my business because no one could get to my shop on Pike St. even though it appeared accessible with the little sidewalk, no one could park near there to walk to it. I wanted to be inclusive and supportive.
    Now it is crazy-expensive for tickets, has so many people that I don’t do my usual walking and shopping anywhere near it for the time it’s going on and all the parking spaces, of which there are few anyway, near my home are taken up so I can’t really drive anywhere all weekend long because I won’t find one when I get home.
    I can overlook the loudness of the music and the drunk folks leaving it, in the name of support for an alternative venue event but if it could be moved to Cal Anderson I think that would help some of us year-round neighbors out a lot on many different levels.