After three years of waiting for Gainesville to update its code of ordinances, punk music festival Fest will have bands perform at Bo Diddley Community Plaza for the first time this Halloween weekend.
Fest 13, which starts Friday and runs through Sunday, will host performers and sell alcohol at the plaza after the Gainesville City Commission approved an updated section 4.4 of the city ordinance in March. The update allows organizations to obtain permits to sell alcohol on city property, like the plaza, through written consent.
Fest event organizer Tony Weinbender said he went to the city about three years ago to request use of the downtown parking lot 10 as a venue for Fest. Weinbender wanted to make Fest bigger and no longer wanted to rely on The Florida Theater to hold performances.
Paul Folkers, assistant city manager of Gainesville, said the ordinance went through city meetings, a city commission committee and two city commission readings before being approved on March 6.
Folkers said since organizations like Fest wanted to use city spaces and sell alcohol in areas like the plaza, the city decided an overall rewrite of the alcohol ordinance would be more efficient than writing and approving rules for each individual organization’s case.
“What was happening was the city was getting regular requests to allow things that we didn’t have the flexibility to accommodate without changing the ordinance,” Folkers said. “So each time, even to do a relatively minor change, (the request) had to go through the whole (city commission approval) process.”
For Weinbender, the ordinance change came just in time.
After The Florida Theater closed last year, Weinbender said, Fest needed another large venue to host bands. If the city ordinance had not changed in time, Fest would have had to sell fewer tickets and downsize to about 1,000 people.
The old ordinance section forbade organizations from selling alcohol on city property, with the exception of a few recreation centers. Some organizations and events like the Santa Fe Spring Arts Festival were able to be written into the code of ordinances, but the process was lengthy.
The new ordinance allows organizations to sell beer or wine in the downtown district if they fence off the area and meet other requirements such as hired Gainesville Police Department officers, $1 million in liability insurance and specific permits. These written guidelines will make it easier for organizations to obtain event permits and for the city to have more organizations hold events downtown, Folkers said.
Weinbender said Fest and its staff are the “guinea pigs” for the new ordinance change because no group has done a large event since the ordinance passed in March.
“Hopefully, this will be the blueprint for when other people want to do stuff on this plaza,” he said. “Then they (the City Commission) can say exactly what you need to do.”
Fest is selling 3,750 tickets, and between bands, volunteers, press and attendees, around 6,000 people will attend the three-day festival. Weinbender also said using the plaza has allowed Fest to invite popular punk band Descendents.
“We wouldn’t be able to do Descendents in this town unless we had a bigger stage,” he said. “I would say it’s going to be the biggest turnout ever for any band we’ve had at Fest.”
The total cost of using the plaza for Fest weekend, not including the cost of the bands, will end up around $20,000. Weinbender hopes to make up the cost with alcohol sales.
He said the city recognized Fest brings more tourists to Gainesville, and these tourists help the city by eating, drinking and shopping in downtown stores and businesses.
“The economic impact on downtown has grown every single year,” Weinbender said, “and this year, I think by having our main venue down there, it will only affect it more.”
Both Weinbender and Folkers said during the initial city talks to change the ordinance, the business association Gainesville Downtown Owners and Tenants Inc. spoke in favor of letting more organizations run events downtown because it would drive more economic growth. GDOT was unavailable for comment.
Jason “Pops” Cogar, a clerk at Pop-A-Top Corner Store in downtown, said the store was busy during Fest last year. Using the plaza this year, he said, will most likely attract more people to local shops.
Daniel Halal, owner of Arrow’s Aim Records, said while Fest is the store’s busiest time of year, adding the plaza will not make much of a difference in attracting customers because it’s already next to other Fest music venues like The Atlantic Nightspot and The Wooly. Even without the plaza, most people are already downtown, he said.
Weinbender said even if using the plaza is a success, he does not yet know if he will sell more tickets or bring more big acts to Fest in the future. Though he said he would like to use the plaza to hold one-night concert events during the rest of the year.
“It would be really rad if it went well and we could, once in blue moon, just do a concert down there,” he said.
As for using the plaza in the future, he said one thing is for certain: “Next year will be way, way easier.”