A spirited debate about potential changes to the city’s street closures ordinance – changes that some fear will spell the end for a popular weekly music event in downtown Waukesha – broke out Monday night but no action was taken by the Ordinance & License Committee as Mayor Jeff Scrima has a work group to address some of the issues that are related to street closures.
Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings had asked the committee review the street closure ordinance to “define the duties and responsibilities of organizers of Special Events that requests a street closure,” a City Hall document states.
“All this is is a vetting process,” Cummings said.
However, an example ordinance has been presented among community members that could restrict street closures. The document, which Scrima said was given to him by downtown resident and property owner Vicky Hekkers, calls for special events with more than 2,000 attendees to include “written details regarding transportation management, parking, crowd control, resident access. Additional, if there will be an extraordinary security measures including searches of persons or vehicles, the applicant shall submit that plan as a separate attachment to the application. If the crowd control or security plan calls for the hiring of private security services, the applicant shall provide the name of the security firm.”
Events that are for more than four days, would require Common Council approval. That would apply to Freeman Friday Night Live, according to the document that was given as a possible ordinance to the Waukesha aldermen.
Other conditions in the ordinance given to the aldermen – the ordinance proposal was not drafted by city staff – includes:
- A petition of 75 percent of adults that occupy properties on the street for the street closure.
- A 20-foot free and unobstructed fire lane
- One portable toilet for every 275 women and one portable toilet for every 300 men attending the event. One out of every five toilets being handicap accessible.
- Prohibit animals in events where there are food vendors
- Minimum $2 million insurance
“We have no ordinance that is before the committee that we are going to act on,” said Alderman Steve Johnson, who chairs the Ordinance & License Committee.
Freeman Friday Night Live
While discussion was supposed to be centered on street closures, the majority of the discussion was specifically about Freeman Friday Night Live, a weekly music event that brings an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people downtown each weekend. The Waukesha Police Department has shut down some downtown streets because of safety reasons.
Anthony Colletti, general manager at The Clark Hotel, brought forward concerns about parking near the hotel, especially for handicapped clients. The hotel works with wedding parties who rent out The Rotunda for receptions.
“I just hope there is some accountability established for whoever desires to close the streets,” Colletti said.
Christine VanderBloemen, who lives in Brookfield but owns property in downtown Waukesha, brought forward concerns about potential insurance liabilities in the case of injury during the event.
“Streets are for traffic, not for people,” she said.
Two men came forward and shared that they found it difficult to find handicapped parking when the streets are closed.
The Fight to Keep Event, Street Closures
However, despite concerns among some community members, a strong showing of support for Freeman Friday Night Live and the street closures that come with it was present during the meeting.
“I don’t understand why we are trying to fix something that isn’t broke,” one man told the Waukesha aldermen. Patch was unable to get his name before he left City Hall. “Leave it alone, we are doing fine. We are getting to the point where it will be easy to close down I-43 than it is Main Street.”
Laura Wied, a Waukesha resident, told the committee she’d hate to see Waukesha move backward by restricting the street closures.
“They are vital. They are really important,” she said. “I feel a lot of pride coming downtown and driving by and seeing Friday Night Live.”
Kathy Garcia, owner of Poppin’ on Broadway and music stage sponsor, said the children and families have had fun during the events. She begged the aldermen to not take that away from the community.
“To even think about opening these streets now, people are going to get confused,” Garcia said. “People are going to think Waukesha is a drama city that can’t get their act together.”
At one point in the meeting, Sandy Cianciolo, owner of Mia’s in downtown Waukesha and a stage sponsor, threatened to remove his business from Waukesha if an ordinance would keep events like Freeman Friday Night Live from continuing.
“This is an attempt to shut down a good thing,” he said.
When Cianciolo sat down after his comment about taking his business from Waukesha, Jody Payne, wife of Waukesha Alderman Eric Payne waved at him and told him “Good bye.” Earlier, while Cianciolo was speaking, Cummings had asked for him to be called out of order for making a personal attack but he was allowed to continue speaking.
Eric Payne spoke about concerns about insurance and liabilities. Payne noted that not all businesses downtown are not involved in Freeman Friday Night Live.
“If something was to happen in front of a vacant building or a business that doesn’t participated because of the street closure, why should they be held responsible?” Payne said.