Decision On How To Address Street Performer Issues Postponed By Saugatuck Officials
“It (establishing new regulations for street performers and buskers) works better when we all work together,” said a pleased Elizabeth Burns, marketing and member services manager for Saugatuck-Douglas Area Business Association (SDABA), following Saugatuck City Council’s decision Monday night to indefinitely postpone the proposed new ordinance regulating the activity.
“There’s been several studies indicating that street performers actually enhance the shopping experience and downtown experience,” said Burns.
City council members concurred and responded positively to Burns’ idea of conducting a survey among local business to gauge their attitude about street performers and what new regulation would best fit the town.
“When I first read this (the newly proposed rules), I had a lot of problems. I look at it as a start of a process. I do think it (having street performers) would add vibrancy to our town,” said Saugatuck City Council Member Jeff Spangler.
City official have heeded the opinion of the business community twice on this issue, first, when some merchants complained about street performers blocking door entrances and obstructing sidewalks for shoppers, resulting in the local police arresting a conservatory student because he was playing his guitar on the sidewalks without a proper city permit.
That in turn lead to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the city forcing it to issue a payout of thousands of dollars.
Subsequently, city officials, citing the need to mitigate potential negative impacts of street performers during the summer time—(e.g, pedestrian and vehicular traffic congestion and obstructing emergency services)—proposed adding new regulations.
The proposed ordinance that was before the city council Monday would have—if it had been approved—barred street performers from public areas (e.g, sidewalks, streets and alleys) in the downtown area, precisely the ideal spot for street performers.
However, just as it had been the case before the new proposal, the city allows street performers in all its public parks.
The city listened to local merchants a second time Monday when a number of them showed up concerned that a newly proposed regulation may be too stringent.
They asked council to hold off on a decision until the business community weighs the possible benefits of street performers and discusses the who, the what and the when of the issue.
“Whether you feel street performers are positive or negative to the community, none of the business community potentially impacted by their presence was contacted for input,” former Saugatuck City Council member and local merchant Catherine Simon told the council before its vote to postpone.
“And most obviously, none of you have observed the positive benefits Holland is currently experiencing with their Thursday evening street party hosting multiple street entertainers,” Simon added, in part.
Council members said the issue was a complicated one, but asserted they would work with the business community—whether or not they were part of SDABA—to develop an ordinance that favors the city and commerce while being mindful of safety and merchant concerns.