With summer just around the corner, the battle for downtown Raleigh's identity is making a comeback.
The target this time isn't sidewalk patios but rather special events on Fayetteville Street: Brewgaloos and holiday bashes, road races and food truck rodeos, SparkCon and Bike Fest and Hopscotch.
At a meeting of the Central Citizens Advisory Council last week, Ken Shugart argued on behalf of "several downtown residents" that there are too many events on Fayetteville Street, and that they disrupt the quality of life of the residents of 342 homes at the Sir Walter, the Hudson, and the Plaza.
"The noise, the drunken people carrying on and doing stupid things out there, the traffic and parking," Shugart told the CAC. "That doesn't mean we don't like festivals and parades. But some of them get way out of hand, and there are way too many of them."
Shugart says the city should scale back the number of events in the district—he didn't say what he thinks the appropriate number should be—and encourage people to hold them in different areas of Raleigh.
"There's no focus to this," he says. "No value is being added to the branding here. What do we want to be? What do we want Raleigh to be?"
Some of these events are indeed noisy. But the city spent more than $30 million revitalizing Fayetteville Street to create an event space that will attract more people downtown. In fact, many people choose to live downtown because of the special events, as Central CAC secretary and downtown resident Amy Blackwell pointed out.
"I think the presentation has lost historical perspective," Blackwell said. "I don't disagree that it's time to look at this, but I don't think we can lose sight of the good things that have happened since that street opened up."
Will Marks, who lives in the Plaza, countered that downtown residents leave town to coincide with certain events, especially Bike Fest. He added that some business owners are dismayed about the events, and some people are moving away from downtown because of them. (There is only anecdotal evidence to support this assertion.)
The consternation of these residents isn't new. Following Fayetteville Street's revitalization, beginning with the reopening of the street to traffic in 2006, the city has tried to lure people downtown by encouraging event organizers to hold events there.
It's worked. Last year, 148 of 283 city-permitted events took place on the four blocks of the Fayetteville Street District, attracting 915,690 people, or 65 percent of the total number of visitors who attended events citywide.
Following complaints about noise, littering, and safety from downtown stakeholders, the city revised its special events policy in September 2014. The special events office and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance now notify residents prior to events, and city staff members are available during events to address any issues that arise.
The city also established the Special Events Task Force, comprising staff members from various city departments, representatives from the Downtown Raleigh Alliance and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, downtown retailer Pam Blondin, downtown restaurateur Kim Hammer, and Jim Belt, CEO of the Downtown Living Alliance.
The group reviews proposed events and makes recommendations to city staff to improve, alter, or disallow them, says Derrick Remer, who oversees the city's special events office. And the city has blocked events: for instance, it denied a request for a large Halloween event on Glenwood South. The city will also turn down events that aren't compatible with certain areas, Remer says.
Shugart says that, at minimum, a Fayetteville Street resident should be allowed to sit on the task force, which he believes is too influenced by the commerce-driven DRA.
"The task force is a bit of an enigma," Shugart says. "Different people say it has different responsibilities, but nowhere does it consider, 'Is this a good thing to do. Is this an appropriate place to do it in?'"
But Shugart will likely find it difficult to persuade the city. Remer points out that most of the complaints about events on Fayetteville Street have come from just three residents. The squeakiest wheels, it seems, don't always get the grease.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Keep it Down, Kids?"