Austin extends ban on special events through 2018

Crowds at Rachael Ray's Feedback party during SXSW 2015. (KXAN Photo)
Crowds at Rachael Ray's Feedback party during SXSW 2015. (KXAN Photo)


AUSTIN (KXAN) — In a city where it seems like there is a festival going on every weekend, city officials say trying to maintain the balance between hosting events and keeping the city safe is a delicate balancing act.

In an effort to “maintain safe mobility” in downtown Austin, the city is extending the moratorium on all new street events in the downtown area through December 2018. The city originally issued the 2-year moratorium in November 2014. The primary area affected by the moratorium is bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the north, Oltorf Street to the south, MoPac to the west and Chicon Street to the east.

The city says the moratorium is based on a number of factors including several road projects on Third and Colorado Streets. The city also took into considers the large commercial construction projects that are currently underway, such as the Fairmont Hotel and the Seaholm Development.

“Just about every weekend there are street events and sometimes multiple events and so the calendars pretty packed as it is, but trying to add additional street events with everything that’s going on, it’s just really difficult for the residents and business owners.” William Manno, Corporate Special Events Program Manager with the city of Austin says.

A memo to the city council says there is a special event every weekend from September through mid-December. Last year, there were more than 800 special events held within the city limits.

“The main goal is to help improve mobility. There’s a lot of people that want to come downtown on weekends, there’s a lot of tourists and when there are events and there are street closures and detours, that makes it very difficult,” Manno said.

Any existing events that area already on the calendar and happen on a recurring basis will be allowed to continue, like Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure. They are also feeling the effects, their usual November date had to be rescheduled for Sept. 25 because that was the only date available when they booked a year in advance.

“I can only imagine how hard it is for the city to juggle all of the requests that they get from organizations like Komen in Austin who want to have an event downtown,” Suzanne Stone, Executive Director of Susan G. Komen of Austin said, grateful to get to continue their event downtown.

“[We] absolutely love the fact that we’re able to be a part of this community and the support that Austin and general public gives to one another is like no other and that’s why we love the city,” Stone says.

Special Events

In 2014, the city manager was directed to give an overview of all the city costs related to special events as well as ways to offset how much the city ends up having to pay out of its own pocket. For the city, a special event usually requires road closures, public safety personnel on site and clean-up services. Event promoters are responsible for all permitting fees, requirements and violations.

In a report issued on Sept. 2, in FY 2015, it cost the city approximately $7.7 million to provide services to these special events — which includes public safety staffing and equipment costs as well as administrative staffing costs — but only collected $6.8 million in fees. According to the report, the city has recouped on average about 64 percent of its money over the past five years. In the past few years, the city has been able to recoup more money by “aligning fees charged by the city with the actual cost of providing services.”

But even with the uptick in recouped funds, the city says it spends its own money for events that have no direct organizer, such as Halloween and Mardi Gras festivities.

Currently, the city co-sponsors 20 events (which includes South by Southwest), 14 of which occur annually. If an event is co-sponsored by the city, the city can provide fee waivers for city services. For FY 2015, the city waived approximately $1.5 million in fees; in FY 2010, the city only waived $394,000.

After discussing with stakeholders and others impacted by special events, city staff developed a list of recommendations including:

  • Initiate a cost-of-service study for all services required to support events;
  • Hire an outside consultant to develop a special events matrix as an evaluation tool; and
  • Develop mandatory post-event reporting criteria to evaluate the benefit of the event to the City

On Wednesday, Sept. 7, SXSW will present the economic impact the 2016 festival had on the city. SXSW said in 2015, the festival’s economic impact was around $317 million.

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