Chaffee County Commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved a Special Event permit for concert promoter Live Nation to return to the Meadows this Labor Day weekend for the third Seven Peaks Music Festival.
The board directed its legal staff to draft a resolution on the subject that it will bring to a vote at its Feb. 11 meeting.
The board was also unanimous in denying a request by the festival organizers to cover the cost of police and EMS services during the event. Last year’s fest drew a little under 11,500 ticketholders to the hay meadow on Crossman Avenue just west of the Buena Vista.
The festival is also planning to open its grounds a day earlier, on Thursday, to spread out the flow of incoming traffic.
Over 40 people came out to the commissioners’ meeting at the Buena Vista Community Center, and that crowd thinned out considerably once the board dispatched with the question of who would pay for emergency services.
Sean O’Connell, the vice president of operations for Live Nation’s Rocky Mountain division, proposed that the county absorb the cost of emergency services, which he valued at $184,000, at the commissioners’ Dec. 17 meeting.
Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze and EMS director Josh Hadley spoke against the proposal.
“It gives me great concern, because my job is to save the county money, because I’m very budget-conscious also, but my responsibility is to provide a safe venue,” Spezze said.
O’Connell said at the December meeting that the concert brought in $7.3 million overall for Chaffee County and $13.7 million for the state, according to an economic impact study on the 2019 festival.
“This is not Live Nation protocol,” said Jim Reid, the site supervisor for Seven Peaks. “This is not a shakedown, this is a plea.”
Reid said that he would look for alternate options for how to make the festival profitable after the request was denied.
About 9 citizens came forward in public comment against the request, led by Carle Linke, a member of the Seven Peaks citizen’s advisory board, who criticized the promoter for being secretive about its attendance numbers and frequently being late on deadlines in the run-up to the festival.
Apparently undeterred by Greg Felt’s request that citizens pass on speaking if the subject of their comment had already been voiced, eight others stood up to dig into Live Nation, the largest company of its kind in the world, for asking for what several speakers termed corporate welfare.
Buena Vista Town administrator Phillip Puckett, who was in attendance at the meeting to discuss some issues the town faced last year during the mass entrance and exit from the festival grounds, had previously voiced opposition to the proposal as well.
Keith Baker said he “could not countenance” approving an expense that would be passed on to taxpayers without the result benefitting a large number of people in the county.
“This request, I cannot find a way to approve it,” Rusty Granzella said. “The event is a positive event, and it’s good for the community, but I cannot bring myself to be a partner in it without knowing a substantial amount about the numbers. I understand that they’re private on your part, but that’s exactly what the county would be – a partner.”
Felt noted that while September has been a pretty rough month for businesses in the past, that has turned around in recent years. He said it would be difficult to attribute all of that to the influence of the festival.
He also said that the county already contributes substantially to the festival’s operations in the amount of staff time expended on permitting and regulating the event.
Next up for discussion was traffic, an issue that Reid admitted would be “a problem for the history of this event. We’re never going to stop working on it,” he said.
Spezze said that he had a teleconference with festival organizers last month to discuss the traffic plan.
“The traffic plan is evolving,” Reid said. “We’re going to need more entrances to get people off the road sooner.”
He said the organizer could not give a concrete traffic plan yet because it did not know what its volume of cars would be.
Spezze pointed to a last-minute fix his department put together with the town of Buena Vista last year as a solution that should be implemented proactively in 2020 – using the Rodeo Grounds as a staging area to keep early-comers off the roads while waiting to enter the festival grounds.
Puckett notified O’Connell and Reid that, during egress from the Meadows, traffic lined both U.S. 24 and Linderman Avenue, blocking in the fire department from both sides.
“If we had a call out for service, our trucks are stuck,” Puckett said. “Internally, we’re going to work on a plan to adjust that and prepare for that, but I would like to see more planning going in to how we’re going to alleviate that.”
Aside from that, the agreement for 2020 closely follows the resolution passed for last year’s event. Based on public comment received at the meeting, a stipulation was added to the document that would ask the promoter to look into mitigating the late-night sound levels from the venue’s secondary Whiskey Row stage.
Several attendees spoke in favor of embracing sustainable practices at the Meadows, including representatives from Chaffee Green and the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association, who offered to help Live Nation develop environmentally-friendly initiatives.
While no specific provision was added to the resolution related to sustainability, Granzella encouraged the promoter to look into improving its environmental practices and to take GARNA up on their offer.
Felt also asked Reid and O’Connell to look into naming a Chaffee County nonprofit as the beneficiary of the event’s liquor sales.