By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Community organizers are worried that proposed new rules requiring participation from local businesses in street festivals will affect their revenue because they feel there won’t be enough participation from neighborhood vendors.
The Mayor’s Office of Citywide Events Coordination and Management (OCECM), which oversees the Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO), proposed new rules for street festivals, including a requirement that 50 percent of participating vendors have a business or local presence within the same community board as the festival, as well as a limit on how many are allowed per community board every year, decreasing the number from 18 to 10.
Carol Schachter, who’s the vice president of the 13th Precinct Community Council, said that a number of groups depend on revenue from local street fairs to fund programming for the neighborhood. Schachter attempted to provide testimony about the issue at the public hearing held last Thursday but noted that the hearing was held in a small room without enough space to accommodate all those who wanted to speak.
“Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association hosts events like tangos in the park. They rely on street fair revenue,” she said. “We don’t have money as community organizations to pay for these things otherwise. We need that money for National Night Out: the giveaways, ice cream truck, they all have to be paid for and it’s paid for by revenue from street fairs.”
Schachter didn’t feel that enough of the businesses in the neighborhood would even be interested in participating, especially because they’re national chains.
“You find Duane Reade, CVS, TD Bank, none of the people in these stores would be interested in a five block street fair,” Schachter said of many of the businesses within the community district’s boundaries. “A lot of these things are franchises. It’s impossible to expect 50 percent. That is why all our organizations are coming out and saying it’s unreasonable.”
The Gramercy Park Block Association also hosts a street fair and GPBA president Arlene Harrison said she didn’t understand why there was a focus on local businesses when there are no rules barring them from the fairs.
“Any business that wanted to be involved was welcome to be involved all along,” she said. “It wasn’t because they were stopped, they chose not to. To make it a requirement doesn’t make any sense.”
SAPO cited the burden on police resources as a major reason for limiting the number of street festival permits that can be issued annually. Under the current rules, the limit is 18 and the proposed rules would cap the number of street festivals to 10 per community board in a calendar year. The new rules also noted that there are particular problems with the number of street festivals in Community Boards 2, 5 and 7 and Times Square, which is in Community Board 5, is particularly overrun with the fairs. But Harrison argued that SAPO should then focus on that board instead of changing rules that would impact other areas.
“I get why there’s a big problem in Community Board 5 but why punish everybody else?” Harrison said. “Why not look at the other areas where there’s a real concentration and work with those three boards to make changes there?”
City Councilmember Dan Garodnick said that he is not involved in the proposed new rules because the mayor’s office is in charge of their implementation, but he said that he is opposed to street fairs that are virtually all the same.
“Too many fairs and festivals have become soulless, corporate fairs without any tie to local businesses and they have become downright generic,” he said. “The question is to strike the right balance in allowing local street fairs and ensuring that they represent the diversity of the city. We need to address this to protect our streetscape, local businesses and the local flavor of our communities. That’s what this is about.”
He noted that he is aware of how important street festivals are to community organizations and the city should keep this in mind with its proposal. “(Community groups) derive revenue from the fairs and the city should find a way to protect them in this process,” he said.
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the effect of the proposed rules on community organizations.