Wednesday, August 12, 2015
The Matrix: Controlling Out-of-Control Crowds and Noisy Events, Held at Fred Francis Field (a/k/a "Special Events Field"), which was intended for locals' baseball and recreation, not tourists' inebriation
Some events are strictly profit-making (Mumford and Sons, above). The fees are de minimis. The congestion is maximus.
Some of the nonprofits are eleemosynary. Some are dodgy. The "matrix" is aimed at eliminating what Commissioner Leanna Freeman criticized: consecutive weeks of traffic jams and violations of our residents right to peaceful quiet enjoyment. For what? Seafood sellers from out of state to hawk their wares, with not one local vendor at our Seafood festival? Unaccounted for cash? Fred Francis Field no longer used for baseball games, usually vacant, and used for faux festivals that discerning locals avoid? In Wordsworth's words, "We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon." How about restoring Fred Francis' field to its original purpose, asking festivals to look elsewhere (County Fairgrounds), and stop subsidizing dodgy nonprofits?
City Commission delays rewrite of event fees after complaints from nonprofits
Posted: August 10, 2015 - 11:48pm
By Steve Patterson
A half-year after the subject first came up, St. Augustine’s City Commission decided Monday there were still unsettled questions about how to update the city’s fees for using event venues.
“We still are clearly struggling with this,” Mayor Nancy Shaver said after members of nonprofit groups that hold fundraising events in town objected to a plan that would have raised costs for some events five-fold.
Commissioners decided not to vote on the plan until they had detailed breakdowns of the city’s costs and could better explain what groups would get back from fees charged for using places such as Francis Field.
The city hasn’t changed its prices in a decade, and commissioners seemed sure that some adjustment was due.
But members of groups that stage some of the city’s largest yearly festivals told commissioners they want the new fees to fairly reflect their impact on the city’s bottom line.
“We do not want tax money, or to be a burden on the citizens of St. Augustine,” Lions Club member Dominic Mercurio, an organizer of the group’s seafood festival, told the commission. By the same token, Mercurio said, the fees “should not be punitive or enhance the city’s budget.”
Members of several nonprofits talked about upkeep the city property needs, from improved fencing and sod to trees at the perimeter of some event areas and reliable electric lines.
Public Affairs Director Paul Williamson had recommended a tiered set of charges that considered the size of an event, the time of year and other standards to rate an event as low-, medium- or high-impact, with higher fees for more impact.
The basic fee to use Francis Field for a day would have increased from $300, the cost now, to $1,000. A high-impact event would be charged 50 percent extra, meaning a day at Francis Field would cost $1,500.
Critics of the fee plan said the events are putting money in the city’s coffers already.
“That’s bringing in huge revenue to you. … Keep that in mind so you don’t kill the golden goose,” said Greg Alatis, a member of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church who works on the city’s annual Greek festival. The last festival drew about 14,000 people, most from outside St. Johns County, he said.
Also Monday, the commission reversed a decision by the Planning and Zoning Board that denied a zoning exception needed for offsite parking that had been planned for a Hyatt at 1111 N. Ponce de Leon Blvd., where an existing hotel would be torn down and replaced.
The zoning board had rejected a plan to have 100 spaces at the hotel site and 25 at leased property just to the north, but commissioners said the board based its decision on issues that shouldn’t have been factors.
“The board hung its decision on … [wording of] a lease, which is not what the question was before the board,” Mayor Nancy Shaver said as commissioners reviewed the case. Commissioner Roxanne Horvath was the only vote against reversing the board finding.