TRAVERSE CITY — Festival promoters, tourism industry officials, and their supporters put on a show of force that blocked, at least temporarily, city commission action to restrict summer festivals in the downtown.
More than 90 people packed the commission chambers Monday night and not a single soul spoke in favor of higher fees, a stricter noise ordinance, or limits on festival use of the Open Space. About 18 people spoke at the meeting and 75 percent of them had direct ties to festivals or the tourism industry. They focused on the importance of festivals to growing tourism and the economic impact of tourism on the wider region.
“We need to continue offering as many festivals as we can,” said Doug Dornbos, owner of Cherry Capital Cabs, speaking for the Grand Traverse Area Hospitality Association.
City commissioners didn’t expect to resolve the park use policy Monday night and voted to refer the park policy and noise ordinance to a special, three-commissioner study committee. The committees can take anywhere from four months to a year to report back to the full commission.
Brad Van Dommelen, president and CEO of Traverse City Tourism, said the city had developed a brand as a fun location and was critical of media stories about residents who complained of “festival fatigue” that ran nationwide.
“This is really about building a positive, fun brand (for Traverse City),” Van Dommelen, said. “These stories do not support the Traverse City brand.”
City commissioners looked at restrictions following an outcry by residents after a Labor Day weekend festival. The third festival in a month led to complaints about noise, trash, cheap rental fees and the frequency of events.
City resident Mike Dow said not all residents oppose the festivals.
“There are a lot of people downtown who moved here, live here, and enjoy these events,” Dow said.
Others went further and classified festival objectors as a small minority.
“Make sure you are not catering to the 20 or so people who are constantly complaining,” said Mark Walter, whose company handles sound for most area festivals.
Two new commissioners, Gary Howe and Tim Werner, also showed little support for the staff proposals created at the request of the former commission.
Howe and Werner disagreed that residents think there are too many festivals and said the proposed fees that could take an event from $1,500 up to $9,000 were too high, a position echoed by festival promoters.
“It’s our fifth year and it will price us out,” said Sam Porter, a festival promoter. “With those fees ... the only ones who can afford them are the corporations.”
A stricter noise ordinance also faces an uphill battle.
Howe and Werner both spoke against it, as did commissioner Jeanine Easterday.
“If we have a fun, vibrant place, we are going to make noise,” Howe said.