The Gulf Shores City Council voted unanimously Monday to pass an ordinance granting a conditional franchise agreement for staging the Hangout Beach, Music and Arts Festival on the grounds of the city’s public beach through 2020.
The council noted the new assembly permit is similar to the one brought forth in 2010, which was also a five-year contract requiring a renewal permit each year. The new ordinance will still require a site-plan application to be completed annually, which the City Council can deny or revoke based on all facets of the festival, including annual performance.
“This document has done all we know to do to serve the public and keep something that’s important for a large portion of our community and address the concerns of the others,” Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft said. “We’ve worked real hard for that, and I’m delighted to have unanimous support for this ordinance.”
The agreement also calls for a “franchise fee” of 1 percent of gross revenue beginning in 2017 and increasing one percent each year until three percent is reached in 2019. The three percent will continue in 2020.
Craft said the revenue made from the franchise fee has not yet been earmarked for any specific use at this time but suggested that it may be used for improvements to the city’s public beaches.
The festival will also continue to reimburse the city for expenses “directly or indirectly incurred by the city and other participating governmental entities,” to include law enforcement and fire department personnel. The council said these expenses were a little over $160,000 in 2014.
During a public comment session held before the regularly scheduled council meeting, some residents voiced concerns about traffic and parking issues, but overall, there was not much opposition to the festival or the ordinance.
“We just are not capable of 30,000 to 40,000 people leaving this island all at the same time,” one resident said.
While no additional changes were made to the ordinance regarding these issues, Craft said the city would take it upon themselves to formulate a better plan for handling traffic control and include the solutions in the yearly site plan.
“We’ve got to come up with a strategy of how we’re going to do that better,” he said.
“I think the event itself is a world-class production but anytime you put 40,000 people together there are issues regardless of why they’re gathered together,” Councilman Philip Harris added.
In addition, hoping to preserve Gulf Shores’ “family-oriented image,” the City Council also made other additional changes to the new agreement, including a more strict, zero-tolerance drug policy, an age restriction and an overall attendance cap.
The ordinance declares that the festival and the city have adopted an absolute zero-tolerance drug policy, stating that any person found in illegal possession of controlled substances will be ejected and banned from the festival site, and the city will arrest and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. While this may not be anything new for the festival, the September draft of the ordinance stated that the “Franchisee shall not include in the performers, bands, or acts to appear at any Music Fest any person or group with a publicly documented association with the promotion or advocacy of illegal drug use, with a publically documented history of onstage drug use, or with a publicly documented history of recurring drug-related audience disruptions at performances.”
However, the wording was softened to clarify that only acts with a history of using drugs while on stage would be prohibited from playing the festival. The updated version reads, “On stage drug use by performers is strictly prohibited. Use of performers and their associates with a documented history of on stage drug use is strictly prohibited. The festival agrees to, in its best ability, to program acts and activities that do not harm the reputation of Gulf Shores.”
Furthermore, paid admissions to the festival cannot exceed 40,000 attendees, according to the ordinance, and anyone under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a ticketed parent or legal guardian.
Despite the changes, festival director Sean O’Connell feels “good” and optimistic about the festival’s future, stating he believes he and the city have reached a good solution.
When tickets went on sale in July, the festival’s website indicated that all attendees must be over 18 unless accompanied by a parent or guardian, O’Connell said.
“We feel that if you’re going to be there if you’re under 18, you should be there with a parent or adult,” he said.
O’Connell added that security has always been adamant about enforcing a strict no-drug policy and that the overall intention is to not actively promote an environment that is not conducive for a large gathering of people.
Ultimately, the new ordinance does not really change anything for Hangout Festival but does offer the community more transparency into how the festival operates, O’Connell said.
“A lot of what you see [in the ordinance] is how we’ve been operating business since day one,” he said.
Additionally, the ordinance is nonassignable and nontransferable, meaning festival founder Shaul Zislin is required to remain the “manager personally responsible” for compliance with all terms and conditions of the festival for the duration of the agreement.
“I think no one can argue from an economic point of view that it is a positive for our area, for a lot of our businesses and the city as a whole,” Councilwoman Carolyn Doughty said. “I think the issues that have been brought up, we have tried to address and with Zislin’s cooperation, in the future it will be even better.”