JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown City Council’s Public Safety Committee has given approval for the National Comedy Center’s (NCC) Block Party to run until 11 p.m. both Friday and Saturday nights.
The events, which are part of the NCC’s Lucille Ball Comedy Festival and include live music, will take place in front of the Comedy Center at the 2nd Street Piazza, near the intersection of Second and Washington Streets.
Late last month the NCC sent its request for a variance for allowing its block parties to continue until 11 p.m. According to city code, any special event involving an outdoor activity is required to end no later than 10 p.m. unless the Public Safety Committee is willing to grant a variance. Following a discussion before the July Jamestown City Council voting session on July 29, the three-member committee of Maria Jones, Tamu Graham Reinhardt and Vickye James denied the request.
After receiving word of the denial, NCC officials, including executive director Journey Gunderson and board member George Panebianco, appeared before the committee and made their case in person for extending the block parties until 11 p.m., saying that during the past seven years the block parties had always been permitted to last until 11 p.m. They also said the block parties have never had a public safety issue and have become a key component of the festival by giving both residents and visitors something extra to do when coming downtown.
“We carried that ball up the hill and we finally opened the doors [to the National Comedy Center] and we’re finally gaining success. We get people who want to come to this community. I don’t think asking for an extra hour to get time together to celebrate as a community and as a group is that extraordinary. We would just ask that you use your discretion and use your power to let us stay open,” Panebianco said.
Not everyone who spoke was in favor of the extension to 11 p.m. City councilman at large Andrew Liuzzo, who is not on the Public Safety Committee, was in attendance and said that having the block party open an hour longer means it takes away an hour of business from downtown restaurants and bars, that benefit from the festival events.
But Panebianco countered that if the block parties weren’t taking place, it increases the likelihood of many attendees just going home after they’ve attended an event, rather than staying downtown.
Councilwoman Graham-Reihnardt explained that part of the reason for the denial was because there didn’t seem to be a system in place or a list of criteria for city officials to follow in order to determine when a variance should be granted, adding she didn’t want it to seem like the committee was simply favoring the NCC over other organizations and applicants that could also come forward to request a variance but get turned down.
After a lengthy discussion with the NCC officials, the committee made the decision to authorized the variance and both the Friday and Saturday block parties will run until 11 p.m.
Councilwoman Jones, who also chairs the committee, said following the meeting that officials should look to create a formal list of criteria that would be necessary before any such variances can be given in the future, and that would include talking with downtown establishments to get their opinion on the impact such a decision would have on their businesses.
“I think it warrants an investigation of really looking at the process and how it should be and could be. We know we’re never going to make everybody happy with it, but I think we need something a little more consistent and something that is clear. I don’t think we have that product now so I think we should work at it this year and see if we can pull this off,” Jones said.