Red Deer city council supports downtown festivals and helping with street-closing costs

It’s contengent 2020 operating budget approval

To encourage more festivals and other positive uses of Red Deer’s downtown core, city council favours sharing road closure costs with public event organizers.

“This is an opportunity to add new life to the downtown,” said Coun. Ken Johnston, who was enthusiastic about helping offset some of the municipality-related expenses associated with these events.

Organizers of some past celebrations — including the former Fiestaval Latino cultural festival — had cited high road-closing costs as one reason for not returning to Red Deer.

Earlier this year, city council directed staff to look at various ways of taking the pressure off such groups.

The goal is to have a strong, vibrant downtown by supporting special events that attract people to the city’s core, said inspections and licensing manager Erin Stuart.

She presented council with several options to consider on Tuesday.

Although Coun. Buck Buchanan suggested the city assume 75 per cent of road-closing costs to the organizers’ 25 per cent, the rest of city council preferred starting with a 50-50 split for a two-year trial.

“You have to learn to walk before you can run,” reasoned Coun. Tanya Handley.

Up to now, event organizers have had to pay for the entire costs associated with street closures. By having a pot of $27,000 available on a first-come basis in 2020 and 2021, council is hoping to stimulate more legitimate activity in an area of the city that has prompted concerns about crime.

While the initiative is contingent on getting final approval during the operating budget review in January, it would allow the city to waive 50 per cent of the cost of a road closure, up to $2,500 for any one event.

Stuart said this is in line with the city’s strategic plan’s objective, of Red Deer being an economic leader and hub with a revitalized downtown: “Local events and festivals play an important role in … enhancing the vibrancy and quality of life within Red Deer and encouraging citizen engagement.”

By helping make downtown special events more sustainable, Stuart believes the city will also be helping strengthen relationships between businesses, social agencies and the public.

Coun. Vesna Higham suggested the city’s fee waiver only apply to non-profit groups and charitable events. But the rest of council felt it would be difficult, in many cases, to differentiate, with some businesses sponsoring various charitable causes.

Stuart said if the $27,000 runs out before 2021, council will have to consider whether to add to it.

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