For rappers Snoop Dogg and Nas, indie rock band Foster the People and the rest of the Grizzly Fest lineup, the show will go on – and it will go on at Woodward Park in northeast Fresno, as planned by the festival organizers.
On a 5-2 vote Thursday, the Fresno City Council approved a special event license agreement with IAN Group LLC, promoters of Grizzly Fest. The vote was originally scheduled for two weeks ago, but was postponed after residents in the neighborhoods east of Woodward Park complained to their councilman, Garry Bredefeld, about the prospect of loud music continuing after the city’s noise ordinance deadline of 10 p.m. Neighbors also complained to the council about traffic, parking and other disruptions to their area from concert-goers.
Councilman Steve Brandau, whose council district is across Highway 41 from Woodward Park, joined Bredefeld in voting against allowing the concert in Woodward Park.
The original proposal for the May 18-19 event called for a one-time waiver of the city’s noise ordinance to allow performances to go to midnight. At that time, Bredefeld asked for a delay to allow negotiations between the city and the promoters to “find some sort of solution that’s good for both sides.
The time-out resulted in an agreement that calls for letting the music or other amplified sound flow until 11:30 p.m. each night, and includes fines for each minute that it goes beyond that deadline: $1,000 per minute until 11:40 p.m., $10,000 per minute from 11:40 p.m. to midnight, and $100,000 per minute after midnight.
That’s in addition to the $100,000 reservation fee that IAN Group will pay to the city for the use of the park.
Grizzly Fest has been held at Chukchansi Park, the city-owned minor-league baseball stadium in downtown Fresno, as a one-day event for each of the past three years. But the move to spacious Woodward Park, the expansion to two days and a step up in the name-brand level of acts booked to perform represent an effort by promoters to raise the event’s profile on the concert-tour circuit.
Promoter Aren Hekimian said that between two-day and single-day ticket buyers, he expects 10,000 to 12,500 people to attend each day of the festival.
Grizzly Fest – with two entertainment stages, a Ferris wheel, carnival games, food trucks and vendor booths for arts and crafts – will encompass about 18 acres in the southwestern corner of the 300-acre park.
If the event goes well, the agreement includes an option for the promoter to hold a second event at Woodward Park in 2018 or 2019. The original version of the agreement two weeks ago provided an option for an event this fall, subject to a review by the city’s administrative and emergency services departments.
Hekimian said after the vote that he was nervous but confident the concert would be approved with the new conditions.
“Thank God I’m young,” he said. “Not too many people would go through this process. … We worked diligently with the city, we worked with the police and fire departments. We did months of feasibility on this (and) we were confident that this is something that would go through and is going to be successful for our community.”
But just as it did two weeks ago, the issue provoked impassioned – and at points inflammatory – rhetoric from both opponents and supporters.
Jan Mikkelson, who lives about a quarter-mile east of Woodward Park, said she’s watched as the park has “been exploited more and more” over the years by concerts that also seem to be growing louder. “This affects us personally. Our neighborhood has a reasonable expectation” not to be bothered by noise, traffic or trash from a festival, she said.
“It’s about 20,000 people across the street from my house,” she added. “I think that’s a scary deal.”
Another neighbor, Sherry Alexander, said she and her husband “always hear when there’s music going on, but that doesn’t really bother us … no matter what the music is.”
“I don’t actually care if they go to midnight either,” she told the council. “But we’d rather not have a festival like that in the park” because of the prospect of parked cars clogging the surrounding streets.
But the festival had its supporters as well. “This is a group of people trying to do something great,” said Mike Bowman. “If we don’t support it, it’s going to leave.”
Nathan Alonzo, government affairs director of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, said his organization also backed having the concert at Woodward Park. The promoters and the city “have compromised in order to get where we are today,” he said. “This is by no means perfect for either side, but that’s what happens when you negotiate.”
In addition to the economic boost the Chamber anticipates from Fresno attracting out-of-town visitors to the event, “it is important that we showcase that we can bring events of this size into our community,” Alonzo added. “When you look at an event of this scope and size … we felt if it were going to happen, Woodward Park” would be the place to have it.
Promoters Vartan and Aren Hekimian said they estimate the two-day Grizzly Fest will have an economic impact of about $3 million to $4 million. “We hope we can grow this event for the community. We want to work with the city, we want to improve our parks,” Vartan Hekimian told the council. “We felt Woodward Park would be ideal for our city to celebrate.”
“Are there going to be some knuckleheads? There are going to be knuckleheads wherever you go, whether at Selland (Arena) or the Save Mart Center,” he added.
Police Chief Jerry Dyer said that his department will meet with the promoters next week to begin developing a security plan for the event, including how the area will be fenced to make sure everyone attending goes through metal detectors, where the beer garden will be, and how many police officers would be required to patrol inside the venue and in the surrounding neighborhoods. “It could be 40 officers, it could be 50 officers,” Dyer said. But, he added, the costs for those officers will be the responsibility of the promoters.
The Hekimians and interim Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd told the council that the promoters have also agreed to provide barricades with people checking IDs to keep festival-goers from parking on nearby streets. “We’re going to work with the police department,” Vartan Hekimian said. “Whatever they advise, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Council President Esmeralda Soria said she believed the two-week delay sought by Bredefeld for the vote produced a better-planned event. “I think the extra time … did allow for additional discussions for additional mitigation that I hope will protect surrounding neighborhoods,” she said.
“We all care about the neighborhoods and the impacts (the festival) will bring, but I think this vote today really shows that the city of Fresno is growing up,” Soria added. “It shows that we’re embracing the idea that we’re an urban city and we’re going to act like it. We’re going to embrace new ideas from the millennial generation. I’m tired about hearing about the brain drain, that Fresno has nothing to do.”
Soria discounted arguments by some that allowing Grizzly Fest to leave downtown was counterproductive to the $20 million restoration of a six-block stretch of Fulton Street near Chukchansi Park. “Just because Grizzly Fest is happening in Woodward Park doesn’t mean we can’t have anything similar or other types of free community festivals downtown,” she said. “There is so much opportunity. But it’s about who’s going to be willing to risk, to invest.”