Artists drop First Friday sales


For nine consecutive months artist Carrie Lago and the group Hand Made in Vegas gathered in a parking lot in downtown Las Vegas to sell arts and crafts during monthly First Friday events.

This month, however, they scotched the sale in the wake of security demands from Las Vegas police that group members say they couldn't afford.

"You have 40 or 50 business people who were going to do business out there on the biggest night of the month, and now are going to make bupkis," Lago said. "It is a little demoralizing."

It's the second time in two weeks local artists have backed out of plans for outdoor sales during this month's First Friday, citing security plans they say would have forced them to hire police officers to provide security at a rate of $66 per hour, per officer. 

According to a timeline provided by Hand Made in Vegas, which has been selling crafts in the lot at Charleston Boulevard and Third Street, Las Vegas police asked the group on April 24 to hire an officer to work on the north side of Charleston.

The arts group and police then met to discuss traffic and pedestrian safety, and afterward the arts group declined to hire an officer. Instead, it offered to hire and pay for a crossing guard.

Lago said police then refused to approve the security plan for the event, resulting in the city's Public Works Department denying a special event permit, though the plan was similar to previous plans.

Las Vegas police Capt. Charles Hank said hiring officers for the event was an option, not a requirement, for Hand Made in Vegas to have their security plan approved.

Hank said the problem with their plan was the lack of licensed security and the need for someone qualified to help pedestrians cross Charleston.

"They can hire private security, and it should be a reputable, licensed security company — not just some folks who put on a couple of shirts that say security," Hank said.

The decision to shut down The Lot, as the Hand Made in Vegas vending area has come to be known, comes on the heels of criticism by an Arts District pioneer who said he also is scuttling outdoor events.

Last week, Wes Isbutt, who also uses the surname Myles, cited new demands from police as the most recent example of the kind of bureaucratic burdens that have contributed to his desire to leave Las Vegas.

Isbutt, owner of the Arts Factory, said Friday morning on the radio show "KNPR's State of Nevada" that the police demands were akin to extortion.

"It is extortion," he said during the broadcast. "We take care of our business. If it wasn't safe for our patrons, our patrons wouldn't come back."

Complaints from Lago's group are similar to those from Isbutt. Recent revisions to the city permitting process have Las Vegas police looking more closely at special event security plans and denying those that don't include hiring Las Vegas officers - an expense many arts-related small businesses can't afford.

"You are talking about people who are local crafters," Lago said of vendors at The Lot, which includes products such as clothes, jewelry, pottery and fine art. "These are not large-business owners."

Security is just one of many requirements for events organizers outlined in the city's 26-page ordinance for special events permits.

According to the code, requirements include one security person for every 500 people, or 250 people if alcohol is part of the event. The ratio, City Manager Betsy Fretwell said, is more cost-friendly than the one-to-150 ratio under the old rules.

Still, Fretwell said plans are already in the works to take another look at the ordinance to find a compromise that satisfies vendors, police and attendees.

"I've talked with some of the council about sitting down and having a conversation with (police)," Fretwell said. "We don't want to compromise safety at all, but I do think we need to have a broader conversation about this event."

Consternation over security costs come as First Friday and the Arts District are in a time of transition.

First Friday, the name for monthly events aimed at attracting foot traffic to the district, has boomed in recent months under leadership from new organizers who took over last year.

The new group, which includes Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, has drawn praise for attracting tens of thousands of visitors downtown to see spectacles such as the torching of a massive showgirl sculpture, a takeoff from the popular Burning Man festival in Northern Nevada.

The Zappos-connected group, which operates under the name First Friday Las Vegas, handles organization and permitting for the First Friday event north of Charleston between Main Street and Casino Center Boulevard and arranges permitting and security and collects fees from vendors within that space.

Businesses outside the official event, including longtime Las Vegas arts community stalwarts such as the Arts Factory, handle their own permitting.

It's the outside vendors, who don't have the financial backing of First Friday Las Vegas, who have spoken out loudest about security costs.

In addition to surging attendance at monthly First Friday events, several new businesses have opened in and around the Arts District, including stores that sell vintage clothing, retro furniture and other artistic products.

That i's what makes the anxiety over security costs so vexing for city officials. They want to recognize and manage the growth of the monthly event without pushing out smaller vendors seeking to capitalize on the success.

"We don't want to be so successful we kill it," said Ward 3 Councilman Bob Coffin, whose ward includes the Arts District. "This is a good group of people, but I don't want the new guys trampling all over the old guys."

Monday on "State of Nevada," Mayor Carolyn Goodman suggested that an admission charge for the event could offset increasing security costs.

But Joey Vanas, managing partner for First Friday Las Vegas, said charging an entrance fee would not only undermine the community spirit of the event, it could cost as much to enforce as it brings back in revenue.

"We've talked about this a few times, and while it sounds like it might be a simple solution to help cover some costs, the expense and logistics to implement it would probably eat up a lot of the money we would collect," Vanas said in an email, adding that fencing costs $1 per foot to rent and that it would be difficult to monitor fee collection.

While it's too late to help Isbutt or Lago's group this month, Coffin said the squeaky wheels have the attention of city officials who probably will take a closer look at event permitting procedures.

"It sounds like the council is just going to have to get involved to find out more about this," Coffin said. "I think it is good we have got some complaints."

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

 

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