- March 20, 2014
The Sarasota City Commission unanimously approved an ordinance regulating special events at St. Armands Circle Park in October, but the journey to get to that ordinance was far from harmonious.
The city originally hoped to get a new citywide special events ordinance passed as early as last winter, but the situation on St. Armands led to a protracted process — and at each step, seemingly, a new wrinkle served to complicate matters.
Special events at St. Armands Circle Park became an issue for the city late last year, when stakeholders in the area listed a series of issues they say special events cause during the height of season. Residents and merchants both worried about added traffic congestion, and merchants worried about the presence of potential competitors.
After the city established a temporary moratorium on events from February through April 20 in 2014, Circle stakeholders fought for more control. They wanted a moratorium that ran through the end of April, which City Attorney Robert Fournier believed was specifically targeting a non-favored art festival organized by Bill Kinney.
They also wanted a return to the pre-2009 status quo, in which an informal agreement stipulated that no event would be approved without the St. Armands Landowners, Merchants and Residents group signing off. Although the city attorney warned against delegating too much power to a private group, commissioners indicated a willingness to work toward the goals of Circle stakeholders.
Following a July public hearing lacking any real controversy, the new regulations appeared to be all but in place. Shortly thereafter, however, two new roadblocks emerged.
One was Kinney, organizer of April’s St. Armands Fine Art Festival. Kinney alleged that his event was being unfairly targeted, echoing earlier concerns of the city attorney.
He said that his event was smaller and less disruptive than a stakeholder-approved art festival held in January, and that attempts to redefine the height of season weren’t reflective of reality. Kinney argued January was as busy as April, citing rental rates and traffic data. Merchants disputed this claim, citing their own records.
The other opposing force was Citizens Organized to Protect St. Armands, or COPS. The group consisted not just of St. Armands residents, but also of former leaders of the St. Armands Residents Association.
Led by former residents association Vice President Ed Rosenblum, COPS formed to express displeasure with the St. Armands Residents Association’s handling of the events ordinance. The residents organization offered its endorsement of the city proposal in the summer — potentially a grave misstep, Rosenblum warned.
The group argued residents should have ultimate say on what happens in St. Armands Circle Park, calling for a five-person advisory board to review events on a case-by-case basis. This would eliminate any need for a blackout period, they argued. A key factor in the schism, they said, was the St. Armands Fine Art Festival — an event they had opposed, but which they said went off without an issue.
Despite the late emergence of two opposing forces, the city approved an events ordinance that included the following regulations:
• A moratorium on events at St. Armands Circle Park from February through April;
• A limitation of two events per month outside of the “blackout period,” with an exception for three events in January and October;
• A 40-day window before an event permit can be issued following the notification of St. Armands residents.
WHAT’S THE BUZZ?
“You have the imposition of injury on the residents every time there’s a high-intensity event. We should have the say — not a city staffer — as to whether we want to endure that pain.” — Ed Rosenblum, Citizens Organized to Protect St. Armands
“You’ve got to be an idiot not to know when high season ends around here.” — Bill Kinney, director of Paragon Art Festivals
“I certainly understand why they want to have a say of what happens in the park, and I think that’s reasonable. I would stop short of giving any private organization veto power over the use of any public facility.” — Robert Fournier, city attorney
“I was pleasantly surprised at the end of the night. My faith was restored.” — Diana Corrigan, St. Armands Circle Association executive director, following the commission’s approval of event regulations