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Countdown to SXSW: City Discusses Fee Waivers, Costs and Boosting Police Presence

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News
The City of Austin has started prepping for this year's SXSW festival, which will take place starting in March.

From the AustinMonitor: Mayor Steve Adler will sponsor an item on next week’s City Council agenda authorizing fee waivers and payments by the city in connection with the 2016 South by Southwest Music, Film and Interactive Festival for up to $309,310, according to Jim Wick, the mayor’s director of community engagement.

Brad Spies, special projects manager for SXSW, noted that the festivals generated $317 million in economic impact for 2015. He added, “We do a very conservative economic impact assessment.”

The fee waivers include items such as additional street and litter control services in the amount of $65,000, and parking space user fees of $77,500. Additional dumpsters and service of those dumpsters will cost the city $60,000, and barricades will cost about $80,000.

The amount of fees to be waived plus costs absorbed by the city, minus the public safety budget, is about a third of what it was for the 2015 festival. The previous Council waived $950,000 in fees and expenses for the 2015 SXSW festival. Council has consistently approved the fee waivers each time the festival has asked.

In addition to the fees and expenditures the city is being asked to absorb, SXSW has already agreed to pay nearly $172,000 to various departments, with the Austin Fire Department set to receive $50,000 for inspection and permitting fees for SXSW-produced events. SXSW will also pay $20,000 to EMS in standby fees.

Additionally, the Parks and Recreation Department will receive about $30,000 from festival promoters for costs related to events at Vic Mathias Shores. Aside from APD, the Transportation Department is scheduled to receive the largest fee, more than $72,000 for street closure permits, a sound amplification fee, lamp post banner fees and some other small items.

In 2014, SXSW generated an estimated $315 million for the local economy, but there were some complaints from members of the Public Safety Commission that city departments had more than $4.2 million in unrecouped costs for various special events in 2013.

This year, APD has estimated that spring festivals occurring from March 10-20, 2016, including SXSW, will generate $1.5 million in overtime costs for the department. At its meeting Thursday, Council is scheduled to consider an amendment to the contract between the city and the Austin Police Association that would allow the city to hire public safety officers from outlying areas to work at the spring festivals when there are insufficient APD officers volunteering for those shifts. APA membership approved the amendment in a vote on Wednesday.

Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo has offered Council three different scenarios for paying for fees, including fee waivers.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.