Fair Warning

Fourth Avenue Street Fair organizers say the city of Tucson is going overboard with its management of civic events

The Fourth Avenue Merchants Association is blasting the city of Tucson’s latest efforts to manage civic events and festivals.

Kurt Tallis, association events and marketing director, said he had “grave concerns” about the city’s latest effort to develop a standard form for organizers of events like the Fourth Avenue Street Fair.

Tallis said the new form—which went live last week—has more than 100 questions for organizers of special events to answer as they start the process of throwing a major party.

“It’s asking for a lot of information,” Tallis said.

The most troubling, according to Tallis, is a request for the names and contact information of every vendor who will be part of the event. Tallis considers that proprietary information.

But Greg Jackson of the city Economic Initiatives Office, who spearheaded the development of the form, is unsympathetic with Tallis’ concern about creating an easy-to-access list of the street fair’s vendors. “Anyone can walk up and down the street and see who those vendors are,” Jackson said. “There’s nothing secret about who the vendors are. We don’t see that as proprietary information.”

By gathering the vendor information, the city can ensure that all vendors have business licenses and “understand the requirement for reporting taxes” rather than dealing with them on the day of the event.

Jackson said that if the city got a request for the list of vendors, they’d let the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association know about it and tell them they “are welcome to go to court to try to put a stop to that and courts can decide if that’s public information or not.”

The process of developing the new form has taken about four years, according Tallis, who added that it was the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association staff who suggested the “outdated” form be updated in the first place.

Jackson said that he got involved in the process about a year ago with the goal of creating a streamlined process for event organizers, rather than having them deal with the parks department when they wanted an event in a park or the transportation department when they wanted an event that would require a street closure. He looked at what other cities had handled special events and talked with local stakeholders.

The end result was the form that city officials unveiled last week, which is designed to let event organizers know the kinds of questions that city officials will be asking.

Tallis said the form is too intrusive. Besides the request to provide a list of vendors, Tallis is concerned that the city wants to see many details that will add up to a lot of paperwork—maps about load-ins and load-outs, explanations of where people will park if they attend the event, and even absurd requirements regarding porta-potties. Given the new formula that the city has proposed, Tallis calculates that the Fourth Avenue Street Fair would have to provide 1,500 porta-potties. Right now, they rent about 110.

But Jackson said that the Fourth Avenue Street Fair won’t be affected by the parking requirements because events along the streetcar line are exempt. And the porta-potty requirement can be adjusted by taking into account the other restrooms available in Fourth Avenue businesses.

Tallis is also concerned about a requirement that all vendors and performers have insurance, but Jackson said the city wouldn’t be requiring that, although he said event organizers should consider their own liability issues should something go awry with a vendor.

Tallis said he didn’t know if the merchants association’s current insurance policy covers the action of individual vendors.

“It never came up,” Tallis said. “This is all new. In the past, we showed proof of insurance showing the City of Tucson as ‘additionally insured’ as an organization.”

In an email to Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Jackson said they’d done some test runs of the form without any problems. Jackson said that the organizers of the Fort Lowell Shootout soccer tournament and Tucson Jazz Fiesta had used the form.

“As with any new process, I’m sure we will hit some bumps along the way and we will work through them to improve,” Jackson told Rothschild. “The new application and approval process should definitely be more customer friendly for the event organizers and city staff as we get used to the new routine and refine it as needed.“

But Councilman Steve Kozachik said that the city is making it harder, not easier, for organizers of special events.

“It’s an absolute disaster,” Kozachik said. “I can’t believe we’re not rolling out the red carpet for these events, instead of making it a bureaucratic nightmare.” ■

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