How Erie does it
Dave Rocco, special events coordinator for the City of Erie, told the Tribune Friday that Erie City Council passed an ordinance that established an entertainment district comprised by 70 blocks bounded by the Bayfront and 14th Street along a corridor extending approximately two blocks on both sides of State Street and took over the enforcement of noise responsibility within the district from PLCB and Pennsylvania State Police.
“In the Entertainment District, there can be bands outside with amplified music until 11 p.m.,” Christina Katen, assistant director of Erie Downtown Partnership, told the Tribune Friday. “We have tremendous support from the city,” she added. “Our mayor is very supportive.”
The City of Erie’s primary concern, according to Rocco, is that there’s enough clearance on nearby sidewalks for pedestrians. “Noise or anything of that nature would be handled by police through the noise ordinance,” he said. “We are very concerned about access — about crowds blocking the street.”
However, the passage of an ordinance wasn’t what makes Erie’s popular block parties happen.
Erie Downtown Partnership, a nonprofit organization put into place by the City of Erie in 2004, offers a number of programs aimed at improving the quality of life in the 70-block downtown district. The partnership’s efforts are funded in part by an assessment put into place by the city and described in the organization’s most recent financial statement as 0.25 percent of the taxable value of each property owner’s real estate within the district. Tax-exempt real estate property owners have an option to sign financial contribution contracts with the partnership or make financial contributions.
Entertainment programs run by the partnership include periodic bike nights, a total of 10 block parties on Thursday nights between Memorial and Labor days and various special events.
The process that results in Erie’s block parties begins in the spring of each year when individual bars submit applications to host a party. Each party involves the closing of exactly one city block and must raise money for a named charity; more than one bar on the same block can co-sponsor an application.
“The bar owners determine who the band will be and what the charity will be,” Katen said. “They also have to provide a certain number of volunteers to collect money on behalf of the charity from those attending the party.”
There also has to be a buy-in from all the property owners on the block in the form of signed petitions indicating approval, or at least a lack of objection. Block parties end at 10:30 p.m.
The applications are scored by an independent committee made up of what Katen termed “non-biased people whose businesses would not profit or benefit.” The identities of members of the committee is a closely-guarded secret, she added.
Once each application is scored, host bars are selected for each of the 10 block parties.
“We try to make it as fair as we possibly can,” Katen said. Host bars are announced in April.
This, according to Katen, isn’t cheap.
Music for Erie’s block parties, for example, doesn’t come from bars. Instead, bands hired by host bars perform on one of two city-owned “bandwagons,” a portable stage constructed on the bed of a tractor-trailer that is driven to the scene and parked in the street.
Bar owners pay for the sound system and the bandwagon, are responsible for making sure no one under age 21 is drinking anywhere on the block, and must provide additional security in addition to the four to six security officers — often off-duty police officers — provided by the partnership.
The bottom line, according to Katen, is that a major sponsorship from Erie Beer keeps the block parties financially afloat — and drawing as many as 5,000 people to a single block for a single Thursday night. That’s because the partnership is extremely careful to make sure anything its money is spent on benefits all the members in the district, not just the bars, Katen said. When non-bar property owners objected to funding block parties, alternate sponsorship was sought out and secured.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What to watch for next
Meadville City Council’s next public meeting is Wednesday at 6 p.m. in council chambers in the new city building on Diamond Park.