Should city help cover community costs of Capitol Hill Block Party weekend? — UPDATE

A group of “residents, property owners and business owners in Pike/Pine” is asking questions about the annual Capitol Hill Block Party music festival in a survey being sent around the neighborhood.

The goal, an organizer says, isn’t to cancel Block Party — but the group does want to do a better job of documenting the challenges the neighborhood around the festival sometimes faces so that the city can better plan the event and how to mitigate major issues.

“In order to start that work towards adequate mitigation, Seattle Office of Film, Music, and Special Events along with Dept. of Neighborhoods and Office of Economic Development asked if we could circulate a survey in order to get more detailed info on the types of barriers businesses, residents, employees, and property owners face over block party weekend,” local jewelry designer and project architect Rachel Ravitch, organizer of the survey, tells CHS.

You can answer the two-question, open-ended questionnaire here through December 15th.


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In 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 — though some locals claim a longer timeline for the event back to its free, less organized, un-fenced days. In 2017, producer Jason Lajeunesse and partners invested in a new sound and light system, and overhaul of the festival’s club centerpiece, Neumos. CHBP’s growth has also been a tricky business tor the producers. The festival takes place in the shadows of Pike/Pine’s continued development. Costs have more than doubled since 2010, producers say.

The City of Seattle is also considering new fees for events like Capitol Hill Block Party that pay to utilize city resources including on-duty police officers. As a “commercial event,” CHBP was charged around $16,000 for 249 hours of police services in 2016. “Actual SPD wages for this event, including upstaffing in the area (i.e., police emphasis work), were $124,502 for 1,773 hours worked,” the city auditor reported.

This year’s CHBP single-day tickets were $80 each counting fees.

The festival has so far managed to keep the peace with the growing number of residents who make new Pike/Pine construction their homes. Some take CHBP up on the offer for special resident passes for the festival. Others make sure to get out of town for the weekend.

For many in the business community within the festival’s E Pike footprint, the event is an opportunity to sell a lot of booze and food to a captive audience.

For those along the festival’s edge, however, CHBP is a losing weekend — though many still make a go of it. “We can’t afford to close,” said Retrofit owner Jon Milazzo told CHS in 2015.

UPDATE 12/10/18 11:05 AM: As pointed out in comments, Capitol Hill Block Party began supporting the monthly Capitol Hill Art Walk in 2015 along with The Stranger and Starbucks allowing the event to continue without fees for participating venues. Financial implications of the partnership weren’t announced at the time but we’ve asked the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce that oversees the monthly promotion for any details they can share. 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.

“To our knowledge Capitol Hill Block Party is unique as the only ticketed three-day street festival in the country,” Chris Swenson, program manager with the Seattle Office of Film and Music, said about CHBP in 2014. “It’s a little like scooping up half of Sasquatch and plopping it in the middle of a neighborhood for a weekend.”

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 David 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.

Ravitch says she believes what Meinert and Block Party representatives did over the years was bully city offices and local businesses — many of which, she points out, are woman-owned. Collecting the information could be the first step toward a plan for “mitigation for business loss” — including employees who miss out on wages, Ravitch said.

“We are now working as a community to repair the damage,” she says. “These offices are not working for the community the way they are intended.”


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12 thoughts on “Should city help cover community costs of Capitol Hill Block Party weekend? — UPDATE

  1. There’s a lot to take in here. $16,000 bill from the city but the city experiences over $150K in labor costs? How did this get negotiated?

    It seems like this is an event that is best moved to an actual venue, like the Event Center by CenturyLink Field.

    • That’s is an inaccurate portrayal of the fee structure. CHBP pays for the officers that are booked to work inside the festival gates. The number the city auditor pulled is for all of the spd upstaging in the entire east precinct. Almost none of those hours are associated directly with the festival foot print. In 2014 it was suggested by SPD that the east precinct have no police officers within the footprint itself, due to how well chbp security managed out event. It was decided that a command post for emergency response could be positioned outside the vent, which chbp was in agreement with. Once the cost recovery debate some up in 2015, we found that SPD had changed coarse and started to fully staff the event, contradicting the arrangement they had made months prior. It was clear this was politically motivated to support spd budget increases.

  2. What kind of support did Meinert show from 51 of 56 businesses? Was it support or was it the acknowledgement form, which is entirely different than support? Some businesses receive mitigation money to offset the loss of business and may feel they have to sign the acknowledgement form. Transparency on this would be helpful.

  3. If a festival is (intended to be) a profit making project then the promoter should be required to pay all of the city’s cost. As is mentioned in previous comments those costs may be in dispute and are subject to negotiation and clarification.

    If the festival is a non-profit project then the promoter must demonstrate a benefit to the City and/or the public in order to ask the taxpayers to absorb some or all of the cost.

    This should be the standard for all public or private festivals, parades, sporting events or any other event that disrupts the functioning of any public right of way. The taxpayer should not be expected to cover costs for a privately sponsored event.

  4. But you don’t deny that the event is costing taxpayers the cost of “upstaging” that wouldn’t be there if this private event was not being held in Public Right of Ways? Perhaps the overall Permit Fees charged by the city should cover all taxpayer expenses, since the public owns the event space.

  5. $124,000 (of stated SPD costs) at $80.00 per hour (overtime rate for SPD officers) equals 1,550 hours of labor. Which divided between 3 days of let’s say 12 hours of event operation per day equals 516 hours per day of labor, divided by 12 hours equals 43, or 43 officers per hour, providing 12 hours of staffing per day, for 3 days. I don’t think there are an average of 43 officers per hour staffing the block party.

    On the other hand, $16,000 (of stated SPD costs) at the $80.00 per hour rate equals 200 hours of labor, divided by 3 days equals 66 hours per day, divided by 12 hours of event operation per day equals just under 6 officers per hour staffing the event. This seems more likely, and its probable that there are fewer officers per hour staffing the event earlier in the day (maybe 3 – 4), and more officers per hour later in the day and evening (maybe 8 – 12).

  6. As per my comment above, the article states the $16,000 bill from SPD is for 249 hours of labor, which is close to my informal calculations (of about 200 hours).

    As for whatever ‘upstaging’ involves, at the stated $124,000 cost, it seems really unlikely that somehow SPD is having something like 6 times as many officers per hour involved with the ‘upstaging’ than the number per hour working inside the event perimeter …

    i.e. 43 officers per hour that the $124,000 pays for less the 6 officers per hour the $16,000 pays for, equals 37 officers per hour involved with the ‘upstaging’ vs. 6 officers per hour (average) actually working inside the event perimeter.

    The article states the $16,000 bill is for SPD, and presumably does not include costs of street closure permits, and other event/permitting costs that the city typically charges.

  7. What I wonder is are they really going to start charging for all of what the police do outside events? Will the city start doing to do this for everything? When the Seahawks play, do they pay for the cops that are walking around the stadium? What about Seafair? Is there any cultural value to music an art in this city anymore? I don’t generally complain about the growth of this city, but it’s making it so art is going to be obsolete in Seattle, which is a gigantic part of the reason so many of us moved here. The Nightlife I believe is in the top 10 of industries for this city in what it contributes annually. I think it was #7, but don’t quote me on that. Just saying if everyone keeps pushing it all away, people are going to start taking more and more outside of the city and what made Seattle what it is will forever be changed. I know that’s already happening and tons of folks aren’t happy about it, but there’s a whole other level of loss that I worry could come. I hope we don’t keep selling the soul of Seattle.

    • Yes. The Seahawks and Mariners pay every penny of OT it takes to staff events.

      Also one has to use more than just hours to calculate costs. Support staff, vehicles, communication support, etc….It’s expensive.

      • Exactly.The $ one officer gets paid per hour is just one part of the cost of extra staffing for an event like this. Benefits plus a variety of facilities & administrative costs need to be factored in to figure out the true costs It’s not a simple calculation.