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Proposed rules revealed to control Fremont Street buskers

They can still be loud — and, in some cases, very nearly naked — but Fremont Street’s buskers might soon have to ply their trade where Las Vegas tells them to.

City leaders on Wednesday announced new rules that would erect “performance zones” for dozens of street performers crowded under the Fremont Street Experience canopy.

The draft ordinance, set for introduction next week, would require buskers to stay within one of more than three dozen 6-foot diameter circles scattered along the street.

Performers would be required to register with the city and rotate out of those spaces every two hours. They would also have to keep a 40-foot buffer between other street performers and a 100-foot separation from concerts sponsored by Fremont Street’s owners.

City leaders and casino patrons have criticized buskers for lewd outfits and violent turf wars over Fremont’s best performance spots.

The performers have also been knocked for aggressively soliciting tips and making too much noise, though Wednesday’s proposed rule changes would actually relax decibel-level restrictions first enacted in 2011.

Rules keeping buskers at least 20 feet away from building entrances and 10 feet away from ATMs, retail kiosks, fire lanes and crosswalks would remain in effect under the new ordinance.

The city spent more than a decade in court defending earlier, bolder attempts to bounce street performers and panhandlers off Fremont Street, eventually losing a First Amendment challenge filed on the buskers’ behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

That doesn’t mean the city can’t exert some control over where and when street performers’ speech is exercised, ACLU Executive Director Tod Story explained at a Wednesday press conference with city officials.

Story said the primary difference between the city’s latest busker ordinance and its past efforts is that the new rules tell performers where they can be, as opposed to roping off areas where they can’t.

City Attorney Brad Jerbic said the purpose of requiring buskers to register with the city before using those zones wasn’t to bar anyone from performing on Fremont, but rather “to know, just in case” that information was needed.

Fremont Street performer Ron Pickerel remains unconvinced.

He said the new rules, like the old, are meant to squeeze buskers out from under the canopy.

Pickerel, a levitation performer, estimates the proposed two-hour performance zone limits could cut his earnings by 25 percent, thanks to all the time he’d have to spend lugging around heavy equipment from circle to circle.

He suspects the city’s latest move is motivated solely by nearby casino interests’ bottom line.

“It all boils down to greed on the casinos’ end,” Pickerel said. “Every single dollar that goes into my pocket isn’t going into a casino.

“They’ve been trying to get rid of us for years. … I think in the long run, they’ll kill Fremont Street that way.”

Under the new ordinance, street performers hired by the Fremont Street Experience would have to comply with many of the same rules that would apply to Pickerel and his colleagues — but not all.

Fremont Street Experience President Jeff Victor said street performers hired by his company would not have to do their work inside one of the city’s performance zones, explaining he wouldn’t want his people crowding other buskers out of their designated circles.

Victor — speaking at a press conference attended by Coffin, Jerbic, Story and representatives with just about every interested party except Fremont’s buskers — said street performers had reached out to his company in an effort to overhaul Fremont’s performance atmosphere.

He and others say a lawyer representing the buskers contributed to the city’s ordinance-drafting process.

“I know there’s a lot of concern about our intent here, but it’s very genuine,” Victor said. “We just want to give (Fremont) structure.”

The proposed busker rules will be read into the record at a City Council meeting Wednesday. If they are OK’d by a council recommending committee, city leaders could take final action as soon as Sept. 2. If they are adopted, officials said they plan to enlist city Detention and Enforcement employees — likely deputy marshals — to help enforce the ordinance.

Contact James DeHaven at jdehaven@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3839. Find him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven.

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