A proposed city special-events ordinance — including new regulations at St. Armands Circle Park — has been in the works for long enough that Bill Kinney has had the opportunity to stand up to the status quo, back down and then remount his campaign in opposition to Circle leaders.
As the city has considered the proposal, Ed Rosenblum has taken the position of vice president of the St. Armands Residents Association, resigned from that position and spearheaded the formation of a separate residents group, all largely attributable to the events ordinance. He’s gone from being diametrically opposed to Kinney’s art festival, the subject of some controversy, to a voice willing to defend its merits.
At a July City Commission meeting, Circle stakeholders in attendance appeared to be on the same page as commissioners. They agreed on a series of revisions to the regulations and asked City Attorney Robert Fournier to return the ordinance to the commission for further discussion. Little dissent arose that day.
That harmony was short-lived: Kinney and Rosenblum represent two forces opposing the city’s proposed fix for the regulation of St. Armands Circle Park.
The art festivals of war
Kinney’s company, Paragon Art Festival, organized the St. Armands Fine Art Festival held April 26 and April 27. St. Armands residents and merchants opposed the timing. Stakeholders argued that an events moratorium at the park, which covered “peak tourist season” and expired a week before the art festival, should be extended through April 28 so organizers would have to reschedule the event for May.
The city attorney said those overtures seemed like an effort to specifically target Kinney’s events, and he advised the commission to wait until 2015 to change the specifics of the events moratorium.
The event came and went with few complaints. Diana Corrigan, executive director of the St. Armands Circle Association, acknowledged that it went smoothly — although she said it did not help area businesses.
When the events ordinance came before the commission in July, commissioners seemed amenable to establishing a moratorium at the park from the beginning of February through the end of April. But before that could happen, Kinney re-entered the fray, challenging several aspects of the proposal.
Kinney isn’t just defending his event; he’s going on the offensive against the claims Corrigan and others made at that July meeting. He provided a 21-page package of information to Fournier earlier this month contesting the longer definition of season and assertions that April is significantly busier than January. He also argues that a St. Armands Circle Association-approved event — January’s St. Armands Winter Art Festival — is more disruptive than his art festival.
He points out that county tourist development tax revenues, generated by residential rentals of six months or less, are higher in January than in April. He cites VRBO, a website for home vacation rentals, which frequently lists seasonal rates on Lido Key, St. Armands, Longboat Key and Bird Key as beginning in January. He spoke with fire department and city officials who agreed that traffic issues affecting the Circle are most significant from late December to mid-April.
In addition to the data he gathered, he believes that observationally, it’s clear that Circle leaders are overstating the issues to get the moratorium extended.
“You’ve got to be an idiot not to know when high season ends around here,” Kinney said.
Corrigan stands by the claim that April is busier than January — a fact she says she has confirmed with several businesses and rental agents on the Circle. Siesta Key, which has a different dynamic than the Lido area, throws off the county tourist-tax figures, she said. As the leader of an organization representing Circle businesses, she said it wouldn’t be in her interest to misrepresent the facts.
Kinney also pushed back against questions regarding parking issues exacerbated by high-season events. He contends if that’s a concern, it should be a concern regardless of the sponsor of an event or whether it’s in or out of season, given the area’s significant parking shortage.
Furthermore, Kinney said, January’s Winter Art Festival had more vendors and took up more parking spaces, hurting Circle residents and businesses more.
Corrigan said January events are helpful because they draw people out to the area during a slower time of the year, a boost that’s unnecessary during the busier February, March and April months.
“That (January) event does a lot for our business, whether Mr. Kinney wants to believe it or not,” Corrigan said.
Kinney believes that, if the commission approves the suggested changes to the ordinance, the Circle Association will have too much control over the events at the park. Instead of having city staff exclusively manage the park, giving preference to existing events mostly approved by the Circle Association, he suggested a committee of residents, businesses and city staff could bring a better balance.
Rosenblum is advocating for precisely that arrangement. After resigning from the St. Armands Residents Association in May following policy disagreements with the association’s leadership, Rosenblum was shocked to see representatives for the residents offer support for the city’s proposed events ordinance.
Rosenblum said residents in the area are far from united on this topic. He believes — like Corrigan — that St. Armands stakeholders should have control over what happens in the park. Unlike Corrigan, however, he believes the utmost consideration should be given to residents in the area, who he says suffer the most as a result of special events in the Circle.
“You have the imposition of injury on the residents every time there’s a high-intensity event,” Rosenblum said. “We should have the say — not a city staffer — as to whether we want to endure that pain.”
Rosenblum, a frequent critic of the proposed events ordinance, believes the city should restart this process at the beginning. Objectively, he believes, there’s little reason to permit any event at St. Armands Circle Park considering the logistical issues. From there, he said, it makes sense to let a group of people with a strong connection to the area — including business owners and city staff, but a majority of whom are residents — determine what’s worth the headache.
“They should have the discretion to say, ‘We like this; we’ll allow it,’” Rosenblum said. “We’ll put up with some congestion, some noise, because it’s, on balance, good for us.”
Rosenblum suggested this group, operating in the sunshine as an advisory board to the City Commission, could judge permit requests on a case-by-case basis. That would eliminate the need for any blackout period and give the board the discretion to evaluate which events would work — and when.
No matter what is ultimately decided, when the events ordinance comes back before the commission in October, Kinney and Rosenblum are set to ensure that the discussion is not as harmonious as it was the last time.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” Kinney said. “This is no longer about an event — this is about principle.”