Over the past two weeks there has been much discussion and trepidation about what proposed changes to an ordinance on street closures and special events would do for the popular Friday Night Live music series.
Many residents and downtown stakeholders are worried a change in the amount organizers would pay to close streets to put on events would result in the elimination of the 18-week event in downtown.
Others have gone a step further in stating that the end of Friday Night Live would "kill downtown."
Individuals packed city hall during two Ordinance and License Committee meetings on March 14 and 21 that have totaled a combined nine hours to express these thoughts to a panel that consists of five aldermen.
Music plays on
But one thing is certain: Friday Night Live will take place this year.
Dan Taylor, who owns Taylors People's Park restaurant in downtown and co-runs Friday Night Live with his sister-in-law, Susie, said those who are concerned about the fate of the event this year had reason to be worried.
But he and his family, along with the Waukesha Downtown Business Association, a collection of business owners in downtown that puts on Friday Night Live among other events throughout the year, will make sure the event happens.
"Regardless of what happens with the cost, we will have Friday Night Live," Taylor said in an interview with Waukesha Now. "It (could) be difficult, but if we have to reach into our pockets a little more, then we'll do it."
Taylor said the WDBA made the decision in the days after the city's Ordinance and License Committee first reviewed a revision to a street closure ordinance, along with the city's parade and special events ordinances and the creation of a new block-party ordinance, on March 14.
While the Ordinance and License Committee hasn't made a recommendation to the common council and is still in the process of discussing the ordinances, the potential change frustrated many downtown stakeholders.
As originally proposed, the maximum fee to close the streets would increase to $350 per event compared to a one-time $150 seasonal permit that an organizer of an event previously had to pay. Multiply this by 18 dates along with the per block charge and the total was reaching the $8,000-price range for the WDBA to put on Friday Night Live, Dan Taylor said.
Combine this with the fact that each business hosting a stage is responsible to pay $100 per event for a total of $1,800 for the season and many businesses would struggle to find the cash to address the increased fees, Dan Taylor said.
Change of position
Alderman Aaron Perry, who had previously been in favor of the change during the March 14 meeting, switched his approach at the March 21 meeting.
Perry said he met with the Taylors and spoke with his constituents and realized an increased fee would not be in the best interest of the city, since the change directly impacts an event like Friday Night Live.
"I find it necessary to pivot," said Perry, who added the city should have "open arms" toward these events.
He added the committee should leave a one-time seasonal fee in place.
Perry echoed those thoughts in a separate earlier interview with Waukesha Now after the March 14 meeting.
"I would never price out an event," he said. " I would do everything to work out a compromise so the event would happen. I am committed to our downtown. There is always a dedication from council members to put tax levy dollars into downtown and to spend our money here."
City officials say the increase was a way to match city services that is required when organizers put on events. According to a memo from City Administrator Kevin Lahner, the cost required to run a large event in the city is approximately $803.22 per event.
While Lahner said the city isn't proposing that as the fee, the city believes it to be a fair representation of the cost of the city services dedicated to a large event.
This includes 51/2 hours services provided by the city clerk's office at $242, four hours for the fire department at $160, one hour for public works at $65.32, one hour for police to review the permit at $49.02 and eight hours for police operations at $286.88.
However, the police operations cost would be eliminated from an event like Friday Night Live, since the community service officers on duty during this time would be working with or without a special event.
Lahner said if there is a per-event, per-day charge, the city recommends capping the fee at a level that is consistent with the recovery of its cost of service, but not overly burdensome to event organizers.
According to the downtown stakeholders who spoke during the standing room only meeting on March 21, many people took exception to the fees.
Among those taking exception to the fees was Karen White, who owns the Little Swiss Clock Shop.
“It hasn’t necessarily been easy to maintain a business down here, but I’ve been happy our downtown has thrived and is doing relatively well,” White said. “But what doesn’t make sense to me is that when we finally have an event that brings so many people into our downtown an event that can do so much good for the image of our city that (the city) raises the fees so high that it might make the event to go away.”
Norm Bruce, president of the WDBA, along with Jim Taylor of Taylors People's Park, questioned the need for a change when a task force that was approved by the council about three years ago approved components of Friday Night Live.
Special events fee
A draft of the special events ordinance includes a $50 administrative fee for all special events, and an additional fee would be based on the amount of attendees and participants. An event fee per special event could cost between $100 and $400.
However, City Attorney Brian Running repeated numerous times during the March 21 meeting that these figures are just "placeholders" and are only used for discussion. He said, after having talks with people in the community development department, it was agreed upon that a one-size application didn't fit.
"(The fees) were only to begin the discussion," Running said. “I have never attempted to state otherwise."
Running added on the ordinances: “We’ve got a lot of work before this even goes to the council. We are very early in this process.”
The ordinances will continue to be vetted during future Ordinance and License Committee meetings.