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With music festivals facing ‘interesting time,’ Seattle looks at keeping costs down for events like Capitol Hill Block Party


Capitol Hill Block Party will rock again in the summer of 2019 — but after that, the city says it is ready to “assess the viability” of the annual neighborhood event. The attention on CHBP comes at an “interesting time” for area music festivals. Wednesday, the Paul Allen-backed Upstream Music Festival pulled the plug on a 2019 event as it searches for “the best format” to continue the event.

Amid the upheaval, City Hall says it is looking for way to better support Seattle’s largest, most popular events even as costs continue to rise.

Organizers for Upstream didn’t call out the fees specifically but many event organizers have complained that the city’s increased fees for Seattle Police and Seattle Fire support have climbed too high even as City Hall has sought to further increase its “cost recovery” for staffing assigned to support permitted events.

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An official with the Seattle’s Special Events planning process tells CHS the city is listening. “The city is also hearing from events that their current permit fees, many of which increased with the 2016 ordinance update, are now too high on top of general affordability issues of operating in Seattle,” the rep writes. “In addressing this, the Mayor’s Office and City Council are reviewing the current ordinance and policy, taking into account input from these interests, and taking into consideration of the city’s continued values in supporting public events.”

Prior to 2016, the city’s special event permit fees were based on the number of expected participants in each event. In 2016, the Special Events Ordinance was updated to include an hourly fee for each SPD officer assigned directly to events for traffic control or on-site security. The fee does not bill event organizers for optional “up staffing” that may be performed by SPD Precincts. This policy is the same for stadium or large private events, where general officer “up staffing” to the neighborhood are not billed to the event organizers, the representative tells CHS.

In 2018, a report from the City Auditor showed costs incurred by the city weren’t being covered by event fees but the message from the Office of Special Events indicates the direction for City Hall might be to make the costs more clearly measurable while finding a way to support large festivals and gatherings.

The Sasquatch Music Festival announced last year that it also would not be returning in 2019 and Bumbershoot’s attendance sank last summer amid rising ticket prices.

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Steven Severin
Steven Severin
1 year ago

The city is just going to keep taking from the culture that made Seattle so great. Why so many people moved here. Now they’re going to keep stripping the art out of Seattle. There’s a reason all of these festivals go away. It’s really hard. People see all of these people coming and buying tickets and just don’t realize the costs it takes and are stopping produce them because they can’t make $. Even if you don’t like going to Block Party think about the jobs it creates and the $ it puts into our economy. Stop our city from trying to o destroy our art culture here.