By Jane Smith
For nearly a year, city staffers have toiled to create a special-events policy for Delray Beach.
Gathering staff from various departments was a bit like herding cats, Assistant City Manager Francine Ramaglia told city commissioners at their March workshop. But with the policy in place, each employee will know what is required, she said.
For the first time, the city will have a special event application fee of $150 and require contracts that call for a deposit and cover the true cost of city staff and services and the impacts on city grounds and roads.
The policy also would create a special events office in the Parks and Recreation Department to provide a one-stop shop for festival organizers. No new staff would be hired.
Ramaglia said her goal is to return to the commission in early May with a policy that can be approved and implemented in time for festival organizers to use for next season’s events.
The discussion took place just 10 days before the second annual Bacon & Bourbon Fest on Old School Square grounds. This year’s fest boasted four more bourbon bars, extended hours and even a pig race — all on the city’s historic grounds.
“It doesn’t benefit the merchants,” said Vice Mayor Shelly Petrolia. “It’s held in a caged-off area. People come for the festival and then leave.”
Some commissioners were exasperated about having yet another discussion on special events when the topic was brought up at two separate goal-setting sessions in the past year.
City commissioners have identified “hometown events” worthy of closing Atlantic Avenue: the Veterans Day Parade in November; the Holiday Parade and First Night in December; St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March; Delray Affair, grandfathered in because it was started to honor the city’s former role as the Gladiolus Capital of the World, in April; and the Fourth of July events.
The commissioners don’t want to see any other major events in those months. Major events are now defined as those lasting one day or more, costing more than $20,000 in city services, requiring a road closure, attracting more than 10,000 people and serving alcohol.
In addition, commissioners no longer want to hold special events on Old School Square grounds. They want the Garlic Fest and other festivals moved to other areas that need promotion, such as Congress Avenue and West Atlantic.
“It’s premature to talk about Congress Avenue,” said Nancy Stewart-Franczak, whose Festival Management firm organizes the Garlic Fest, Bacon & Bourbon Fest and the Wine & Seafood Fest. She also sits on the special events task force.
Without a new property identified, her firm is trying to lessen the impact of its events by offering parking and security solutions.
Since June, Ramaglia and her two co-captains, Parks and Recreation Director Suzanne Davis and Economic Development Director Joan Goodrich, worked with staffers from seven other departments on the special events task force. The group also included event organizers such as the Greater Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Development Authority and the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative.
They did try to get members from the community, but they stopped coming after a few meetings, Ramaglia said.
Mayor Cary Glickstein said he appreciates the group’s focus on public safety and the full-cost recovery of the special events, but more work needs to be done to cull the number of large events. He wants to see “collective pain” on the part of organizers.
He likened the objections to special events to the scale of complaints he receives about sober homes. “People want smaller events they can relate to,” he said.
The Delray Beach Wine & Seafood Fest, held last November on A1A along the city’s beach, was “just another honky-tonk kind of event,” he said. Next time, the fest will be held on Old School Square grounds, Ramaglia said, much to the chagrin of Petrolia and Glickstein.
Savor the Avenue, which closed four blocks of Atlantic Avenue on a Monday night in March, was deemed suitable. The event features Delray Beach restaurants.
The Delray Affair will have 100 fewer booths this April because it will no longer set up on Old School Square grounds.
The mayor talked about walking the event last year along Atlantic Avenue from Andrews Avenue west to Swinton Avenue, and seeing only one person he knew. “And I’ve been here for 30-plus years,” he said.
Compared to the previous financial year, the city is seeing a reduction of two festivals from 67 to 65 during the season and a reduction of nine from 14 to five events in the summer months.
Ramaglia said the full effect would not be seen until the fall when next financial year starts.
“Special events have been a mainstay for so many years; we need everyone’s input,” she said. “We want to be careful in making a change that we do not pop the balloon that helped Delray grow.”