City Festivals: Pay Up or Else!

November 16, 1992

Starting Jan. 1, sponsors of privately sponsored outdoor festivals and events have to reimburse Baltimore City for the cost of municipal services provided. Those not willing to abide by the rule will be told to take their event elsewhere.

The reason for this policy change is the city's budget constraints. "This is not meant as any type of revenue generation program at all but to be fiscally responsible," says Mari B. Ross, who chairs the city's inter-departmental events committee.

This year alone, Baltimore City is hosting an estimated 860 events using public street space and 1,000 gatherings held on land controlled by the parks and recreation department.

Some of those events are as small as block parties. Others draw tens of thousands of people. Each event requires such expensive municipal services as crowd and traffic control, law enforcement and trash removal. Until now, these services have been provided free of charge.

As of January, however, the city will begin charging sponsors of private outdoor events hourly rates for additional street cleaning. Organizers will also have to pay for trash removal -- but would have the option of using a private hauler.

As in the past, there will be no fee for the use of city-owned booths. But event sponsors would be charged for delivery and set-up. Similarly, organizers will have to pay for crime prevention patrols as well as for crowd and traffic control, although private agencies again may be used.

Letters sent to 700 community organizations explained that "beyond securing the equipment and permits necessary to insure the health and safety of their participants, most small neighborhood events generally should not incur additional costs for staging a successful event. It is to the larger event sponsor, whose event in many cases has grown over the years beyond the city's ability to provide an acceptable level of service, that we are looking for a stronger participatory partnership."

To many groups, these changes will mean painful adjustments. Some events may have to reduce their scope or change their location. Others may have to start charging admission or find themselves forced to discontinue the event.

Baltimore's cornucopia of outdoor events and festivals are important attractions for residents and visitors alike. While the new policy changes are understandable, they must not be implemented with a bull-headed inflexibility that would kill these needed and enjoyable ingredients of urban life.

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