Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

City’s Permit Could Charge Summerfest

Revised special events permit could charge festival full price of police security.

By - Feb 24th, 2020 03:59 pm
Long Lines at Summerfest's Opening. Photo by Alison Peterson.

Long Lines at Summerfest’s Opening. Photo by Alison Peterson.

City officials are moving to clean up its special events permitting process that regulates everything from Summerfest and the Milwaukee Marathon to street festivals and parking outside concert venues.

“This has gone through several drafts in the last few cycles,” said deputy city attorney Adam Stephens in briefing the Common Council’s Public Works Committee on the changes last Thursday. The changes were initiated by the independent City Attorney’s office to address potential issues with the coming Democratic National Convention in July 2020.

But the highest-profile change is one sought by Alderman Robert Bauman to address an issue where Summerfest is not required to pay for escalating security costs related to hosting the 11-day music festival. He has an objection pending to Summerfest’s current application. “It is certainly not my intent as objector to prevent Summerfest from taking place,” said Bauman in January. But he does want Milwaukee World Festival, whose marquee festival now costs the city in excess of $800,000 a year for the police department to provide security, to pay its fair share.

A new permit class, AA, would be created for events lasting two days or longer and requiring more than 150 hours of city services. Event hosts would be required to reimburse the city for the hourly cost for police and public works services. Summerfest currently is scheduled to pay approximately $46,000 for its permit, said Bauman.

A host of other changes are included in the ordinance, including adjusting the appeals process. Currently objections are heard only by the Common Council’s Licenses Committee, but they would now go to the full council.

But Ald. Michael Murphy raised the concern that requiring the full council to meet any time there is an appeal of the special events permit isn’t workable. “There won’t be enough alderman to come in” for each appeal, he said. “It’s just not going to happen,” But Department of Public Works (DPW) Commissioner Jeff Polenske said he only knows of one such objection arising in his more than two decades of city service.

Other changes include establishing a limit to how far in advance permits can be applied for (365 days) and granting 30 days, instead of 10, to the DPW Commissioner to respond to permit requests. “It’s much cleaner for everyone’s purposes,” said Stephens.

Stephens said another change is establishing objective criteria for the cost of the permit. “This was a huge problem for me last year when the police department unilaterally started doubling and tripling fees in the name of ‘budgetary crisis’,” said Ald. Nik Kovac. He said he agreed there was a budget crisis, but said charges shouldn’t be in the sole discretion of the Milwaukee Police Department.

“My conversations with the leadership of the police department were unbelievable over this issue,” said Kovac. “I was actually told by a sergeant that it shouldn’t be my concern what street festivals that have been going on for 40 years are charged.” Bauman said he considered cutting the police out of the process entirely, but was counseled against that.

The revised ordinance would require MPD to consult with the DPW Commissioner and local Common Council member in determining the classification of the permit.

But before the committee could approve the changes, residents of N. Plankinton Ave. showed up to protest specific provisions of the ordinance.

Opening Pandora’s Box at the Riverside Theater?

Residents of condominiums near the Riverside Theater (116 W. Wisconsin Ave.), operated by the Pabst Theater Group, have expressed displeasure with how the special events permits are used. The committee spent over an hour on the matter in early January, and two nearby residents showed up to object again on Thursday.

Attorney and Riverfront Lofts resident Claude Krawczyk said the Pabst employees use the spaces for personal parking throughout the day and during events instead of trucks and vehicles for performing artists. He said that on 31 out of 35 days from Thanksgiving to January 2nd the street parking was closed for a special event, but regularly wasn’t used for vehicles associated with shows. “There are no buses, no trucks, this is being used as a private parking for the Riverside Theater.”

“They use this private parking lot, even though their landlord owns the surface parking lot across from the Germania Building. Why don’t they use those spaces? You know why? Because the city charges them $9 a day per space. You’re subsidizing the business of the Riverside Theater,” said Krawczyk.

The attorney said the new ordinance, which includes two clauses explicitly allowing vehicles and other storage on city streets that is “associated with an event” to use a special events permit, would “open a huge Pandora’s box.”

“You are making legal the current abuse,” said Krawczyk. He said the problem could go citywide.

“If Shank Hall wants to reserve 10 spaces on Farwell Avenue for their employees and performers, you can’t do anything about it. They could do that 365 days a year,” said Krawczyk.

But Kovac, the council member representing Shank Hall, disagreed. “I completely, on definition of words, think what you just said is not true,” said Kovac. He said the local council member could object and the measure would go to the full council.

Polenske said the city has worked with the Riverside to clean up the matter,  including requesting a list of vehicles that will use the spaces. “I thought you did. I thought you stopped this employee parking business, right?” asked Bauman. “That certainly is the intent,” said Polenske, while Krawczyk said “no” at the same time. “It’s existing right now as we sit here,” said the attorney.

Polenske said tickets have been issued. “Was Simon Bundy‘s Tesla ticketed? I bet it wasn’t,” said Krawczyk. Bundy is the Pabst Theater Group’s technical director. “We issue citations at loading zones all the time,” said Polenske.

“The residents want to shut down the Riverside Theater,” said Bauman.

“That’s not true, please don’t repeat that nonsense,” said Krawczyk.

“That’s the position you’re taking,” said Bauman. “No it’s not,” responded Krawczyk.

“Please sue us,” said Bauman. “Then we can have a court resolve this. I welcome the suit.” At January 29th meeting, Bauman, who represents the area in conflict, said he is stepping back from the matter. “I’m quite frankly done dealing with these issues,” said Bauman. Krawczyk said he would bring the suit if the two provisions were removed.

The committee unanimously endorsed the amendments. The full Common Council is scheduled to take up the matter next week.

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