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Wed, Feb. 19

Debate continues on Prescott's downtown special events

PRESCOTT - One lesson learned from this year's July 4 street dance, according to its promoter: A 10 p.m. closure time "doesn't work."

Steve Gottlieb, the event's promoter through Eagle Management LLC, reported that this year's July 4 Whiskey Row Street Dance attracted less than one-tenth of the attendance of previous years.

"We had 378 people this year," Gottlieb said of the turnout at the dance that occurred on Saturday night, July 4. "Last year, we had over 4,000."

The reason for the drop? Gottlieb said it could be traced to the June decision by the Prescott City Council to shut down liquor sales at the dance at 10 p.m., rather than the previous midnight closure time.

"Absolutely. No question," he said of the connection between the time change and the decrease in attendance. "We turned away more people between 9:45 and 10:15 than we had at the whole event. Hundreds of people were mad while we were breaking down."

He added: "We know now what doesn't work."

The time schedule for the July 4 dance has been central to a debate that has been ongoing in recent months over special events that occur in downtown Prescott.

A number of Whiskey Row bar owners have attended recent Prescott City Council discussions, and have questioned the city's practice of allowing special events to sell liquor late into the night.

Owners say the events present unfair competition to established bars, which must acquire expensive liquor licenses and follow other requirements in order to do business.

The special-event issue came up at the council's July 7 workshop, when Recreation Services Joe Baynes made a presentation on the background of the events that regularly occur in the downtown business district. Among the purposes of the discussion, Baynes said, was to discuss ways of balancing the impacts of the events.

City Councilman Greg Lazzell voiced concerns about the street closures that come with many of the special events. He suggested that - with exceptions for major community events - "What I'm thinking is we don't shut the streets down at all."

But Councilman Chris Kuknyo said he was "kind of disheartened" by the backlash against special events. "I thought they were very good for the downtown," he said.

Kuknyo pointed out that many of the downtown events are conducted to benefit non-profit organizations that do good work in the community. "Sometimes we throw around 'non-profit' like it's somebody trying to run a scam," he said, noting that the events benefit effective community organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Habitat for Humanity.

Dave Michelson of The Palace Restaurant and Saloon told the council, "We're not against special events, and we're not against street closures. What we want is if there is a for-profit person putting on an event, we want to make sure it's a level playing field. We want to make sure there's accountability."

Michelson added that he agrees with Lazzell that 8 p.m. "would be a good time to end things."

Other bar and restaurant owners cautioned against too many changes, however, maintaining it could hurt the downtown in the long run.

John Nielsen of the Prescott Brewing Company said special events tend to help, rather than hurt. "I've never seen an event affect my business negatively - even beer events," he said. "I get more business out of it, because people...want to sit down somewhere and take a break."

Bruce Reid of the Whiskey Row Pub added that downtown bars have a limited total customer capacity, and the 10 p.m. closure of the street dance created a void. He cautioned against "taking the fun out of" downtown Prescott.

Councilwoman Jean Wilcox also voiced concerns about the council's 10 p.m.-closure decision. "I personally think we made a mistake," she said, noting that people coming downtown after the 9 p.m. end of the rodeo were unable to take advantage of the street dance.

While the council came to no decisions at the meeting, Lazzell and Kuknyo volunteered to meet with the staff-level special events committee to discuss the issue further. Based on those discussions, the matter likely will go back to the council for more discussion within the next two months, say city officials.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-642-0951.

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