Council Talks Special Events, Fears Over Stetson

After resident concerns, including a petition presented in opposition to Stetson’s proposal for street closure on 61st Street South, Gulfport City Attorney Andrew Salzman spoke plainly about the status of the issue at the Gulfport City Council meeting on Tuesday, September 5.

“I have heard nothing for quite a period of time,” Salzman said, explaining that he had told Stetson he would not bring the proposals to council unless they “fix a couple of issues.” The school, he said, has not responded. “We also told them to go out into the community and get support from the community, which, obviously, that has not happened. So that’s why you haven’t seen it: there’s nothing to bring you.”

Salzman also addressed the comments and allegations made at a previous city council meeting that the city was conducting private meetings with Stetson regarding the proposal.

“There’s nothing before you, there’s nothing being done, and frankly,” he said, “as we sit here today, we don’t see anything happening in the future. So I don’t want people to think we’re hiding something. We’re not. There’s nothing going on.”

Stetson first approached the city with the idea of the street closure between the law library and the main campus last October.

Councilmember Yolanda Roman was critical of Stetson’s handling of the issue regarding community outreach: “It wasn’t done until May, June, July where there was really transparency to the community and what was happening, and the stories have changed,” she said. “You have to really understand…how confusing, how frustrating this process has been [for residents], and I think that just adds to the issue. I don’t think folks mean to pick on us, but we are their voice.”

Special Events Cost Structure to Save Thousands for City

After extensive analysis of the costs of special events, city staff have created a standard plan for how they handle these events going forward. The solution: organizations will have to pay their share.

“We did meet with the organizations,” said City Manager Jim O’Reilly of the discussions city staff has had with local groups who usually put on special events in the city. “And what we’ve done is provide a level of equity of service.

“If you have a major event, it’s budgeted at $1400 a day. Single smaller community event has a $1000 expense cost. We’ve asked for organizations to offset costs when we exceed what our appropriation would consist of.”

With regard to free use of the Casino for special events, O’Reilly alluded to a return to an older policy of limiting each organization to one application.

“We’ve returned to that,” he said of a plan that would also offer a discounted, non-profit rate at 33% off the current resident rate.

“Instead of giving away a $2400 rental,” said O’Reilly, “we’re now saying OK here’s a cost we can realize. And we can charge you. But you get one free.”

O’Reilly added that the city postponed the approval of the events calendar so that organizations can take this new rate structure into account in their planning. Also in the plan would be a $50 application fee for events to help offset some of the cost of staff reviewing the applications and to stand as a “measure of commitment” from the applicant.

“Also public safety costs, if there’s alcohol and such, would be borne by the applicant,” O’Reilly said.

The mayor thanked staff for extending the application deadline for this year, adding, “Next year we’ll know August 1st is the time to have all those in.”

Roman said that she “did get positive feedback from the groups you met with, so that is a good thing,” but made an additional point about the fee structure for the volleyball courts.

“When you take the whole beach away, that’s a lot more work for staff, is it not?” she said of the occasional events where temporary courts line Gulfport Beach.

Taking up the beach should be priced differently, she maintained, than the current $250 per day fee for the permanent courts.

“I think the fair thing is $250 per day, as it is for the stationary courts, and $500 for an entire beach closure,” she said. “That’s my proposal.”

O’Reilly said that he would discuss the issue with the applicants and “bring it back to council.”

Councilmember Michael Fridovich also expressed concern about employee costs during events.

“I do think that we need to find ways to either offset this next year with more volunteers.”

Fridovich had a further, perhaps controversial, suggestion for lowering city events costs.

“I do think, and this is not going to make me very popular with two organizations, that part of our problem in this town is that we have too many organizations,” he said. “I’d love to see one organization – the Chamber of Commerce – and have offshoot committees, such as the GMA and other organizations, work under the chamber. Which would cut down costs as well.”

He added, “But given the histories, personalities and every other issue in the world, I doubt that’s going to happen.”

O’Reilly explained that the new equitable costs structure is just one step that has “reduced our cost immensely.”

The city “saved about $22,000 this way,” he said. “We have reduced our subsidies and we’ve also increased our revenue from organizations.”

He added, “It’s a step… it’s not far enough…. but we have reduced our level.”

Mayor Henderson weighed in on special events costs saying, “I think that sometimes one of the biggest things we do is try to be too big for a small town … Maybe the big events aren’t necessarily what we need to do.”

Applicants can “go for the moon if they want to,” he said, but the smaller events “suit us better.”

In addition to cost savings, O’Reilly stated that a reduced calendar would be a relief for often overworked staff.

“That’s a lot of weekends that you’re here,” he said.

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