Following the Fourth of July weekend, the city will refrain from closing the west end of Main Street for most events until September 2015, in an attempt to prevent disruption to downtown business.
The City Commission unanimously passed a resolution June 16 that creates a moratorium on Main Street closures between Orange and Gulfstream avenues. The resolution includes exceptions for parades, Thunder by the Bay and the New Year’s Eve pineapple drop.
The impetus for the resolution came in April, when city staff informed the commission they wanted direction for managing Main Street events given the amount of planned downtown construction over the next year. In particular, the closure of the State Street parking lot for construction of a garage — and the corresponding loss of 139 parking spaces — had business owners worried about the availability of parking in the area.
Debbie Perez, the city’s municipal auditorium manager, said staff had received feedback from downtown businesses regarding problems caused by Main Street events even before construction began to increase. In particular, multi-day events with vendor booths disrupted the street traffic and hampered parking for shoppers.
“Primarily, the events that seem to be the biggest concern and the ones we hear the most of are those that close Main Street for two days,” Perez said. “The events that have the tents up and at 5 o’clock everything’s closed down — there’s no traffic, there’s no parking.”
At the same time, Perez said, the city wanted to offer the organizers of special events assurances those events would not be disrupted by construction. In April, nine events were scheduled for November through May on Main Street, with five of those requiring two-day closures. Staff said they would look for alternative locations for those events, such as city parks or four-lane roads that wouldn’t require a full street closure.
“We’re not saying we don’t want them,” Perez said. “We’re prepared to say, ‘If you can’t use this, how about option B or C?’”
Staff reported the organizers of seven events that would have been held on Main Street agreed to move to alternative locations in the city.
The moratorium sits well with many downtown businesses. Kate Runyon, manager of the clothing store Michael’s on Main, said the Main Street events had done little to draw traffic to the store. She said it was similar to the situation on St. Armands Circle, where businesses are pushing for a moratorium on special events in the park during high season due to congestion issues.
“We have to be able to allow the people who are wanting to come to the stores and the restaurants for that particular reason an easier time to get in there,” Runyon said. “When they read in the paper that this is going on, they don’t even attempt to come into town to see how bad it might be with parking.”
Jim Lampl, a downtown resident, voiced concern at an earlier commission meeting about the exception made for Thunder by the Bay. Lampl said the motorcycle-centric event was the source of more disruption than other Main Street events and that other festivals were minor in comparison.
“Thunder by the Bay can have its event over the weekend, but the art fairs, which are relatively benign, cannot have their events,” Lampl said. “I don’t know what the criteria could be, but it certainly cannot be consistent.”
Staff said Thunder by the Bay was a unique event that had been held in the community for nearly two decades. Perez also said that Bradenton was attempting to persuade event organizers to move Thunder by the Bay to Manatee County and that the city should work to retain the event.
At its last meeting, the City Commission agreed local businesses should be prioritized if the special events created any potential issues — meaning the moratorium will take effect after the holiday weekend concludes.
“I’m sure every promoter wants to come to town to grab the foot traffic,” City Commissioner Shannon Snyder said. “They’re not the one here paying our property tax, and they’re not paying the sales tax.”
Contact David Conway at [email protected]