Numberfest occurs just outside of Athens but issues around this event create problems for the city. (photo courtesy: Steve Patterson)

Special Events Permitting Proposed in City

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The chairwoman of Athens City Council’s Planning and Development Committee is drafting a special events permitting process — something she says most other cities in Ohio that host a large number of events have had in place for a while.

Councilwoman Chris Fahl said that a city like Athens that hosts many events throughout the year should have a permitting process in place to make sure too many events aren’t happening at once and to ensure that things are planned properly. She noted that cities like Nelsonville and Marietta have such permitting processes in place.

In short, the permitting process would provide a checklist of expectations from the city to event organizers.

According to Fahl, the process would require event organizers to provide information regarding insurance, portable toilets, street closures, what types of alcohol and vending would be offered, and contact information.

Fahl said the proposed process would allow the city to get a handle on possible events in the city and keep tabs on how it is being organized and planned to ensure that everything is safe and legal. It could also encourage event organizers to keep other events in mind when selecting dates. For example, on the weekend of April 18-19, the city played host to the International Street Fair, Athens Marathon, and Athens Beautification Day while also dealing with the impacts of NumberFest on Route 56 just outside the city limits.

“Right now there doesn’t seem to be any coordination,” Fahl said.

The proposed cost for the permit application fee is $100 for for-profit events and $25 for non-profit events and fundraisers. Parades, car cruise-ins and the Athens Uptown Business Association trick-or-treat would be exempt from the permitting process.

The proposal could also allow the city to recoup some costs such as lost street parking meter revenue or police expenses for some large events. It was this segment of the proposal that had Athens Halloween Block Party organizer Jonathan Holmberg concerned.

When first hearing of the possibility that the city could bill organizers for street closure and police costs, Holmberg said such a measure would be devastating to his organization. The city expends approximately $70,000 for additional police for the annual event — a bill the Clean and Safe Halloween Committee couldn’t possibly afford.

However, Fahl said the proposal wouldn’t have an impact on Halloween.

“Halloween is different than most festivals,” she said. “It’s a long tradition and the city helps out.”

Holmberg agreed. He said the nonprofit Clean and Safe Halloween Committee was formed as a way to get a handle on the rowdy Halloween crowds that were flooding Court Street illegally.

“We don’t ask the city to put on the block party,” he said. “We were formed to minimize the problems that used to come with it. We’re just the spokes in the Halloween wheel.”

Holmberg said the committee also doesn’t have the opportunity to raise money like other event organizers. The committee is funded by donations and sponsorships and Holmberg said some years the pot of money for the event is entirely depleted.

Holmberg also noted that the city goes out of its way to help the committee and that planning meetings with the city for this year’s event will begin in the next couple weeks.

The proposed legislation will not be introduced next week, according to Fahl. She said whenever the legislation is introduced, she will suggest an effective date of Jan. 1, 2016.