Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

July 13, 2014

Editorial: Street performer ordinance arose on busy sidewalks

This is not government at its warmest and fuzziest — if there is such a thing. But sometimes looking like a bully is the price of doing business.

Traverse City officials have decided to appeal a decision by Grand Traverse County Magistrate Tammi Rodgers to dismiss tickets city police issued to two brothers for playing a guitar and singing in the Jay Smith Walkway off Front Street without a permit.

Back in 2003 the city commission, spurred by concerns about street artists, jugglers, musicians and other performers clogging busy city sidewalks, approved a “busking” ordinance to require street performers to obtain an annual permit if they drew crowds along public sidewalks or in parks and playgrounds.

From our vantage point in 2014, that may seem an extreme reaction. But in 2003 the ordinance looked like government doing what it was supposed to do, popular or not.

For some reason 2003 saw a major uptick in the number of street performers who set up on sidewalks all over downtown in hopes of picking up a few bucks.

Their numbers rose for years, but crested in 2003; at times two or more of the four corners at Front and Cass or Front and Union were staked out by performers. Some set up shop on the Union Street bridge.

Some of it was charming. Some wasn’t. But eventually, residents said they were tired of having to worm their way through a crowd of listeners or loop around performers to get anywhere.

It was akin to the current sidewalk dining craze that has seen tables and chairs pop up on sidewalks outside many downtown restaurants, leaving pedestrians facing an obstacle course. Some like it, many don’t.

So the city passed a busking ordinance that required street performers to first get a license — now at $40 a year — before performing. We may soon get a chance to debate the issue all over again.

The number of street performers is down (40 bought licenses this year), likely because $40 is a lot to plunk down on the chance of making a profit. So their numbers aren’t now an issue.

But who is to say what may happen if the ordinance is overturned or not enforced? We may find out.



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