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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Hales' Office: Time for Last Thursday Vendors to Start Paying Fees... "Probably" This Year

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, Apr 3, 2014 at 5:55 PM

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Pressed by Commissioner Amanda Fritz to show some of his cards during a budget work session this afternoon, Mayor Charlie Hales laid out his office's "nutshell" strategy for tamping down—and not paying for—the NE Alberta bacchanalia known as Last Thursday.

Some of it's familiar: The city wants out of the business of mustering volunteers and paying for cops and street closures at the beloved/accursed street-art event—which brings out families and culture-lovers on the last Thursday of the month, starting in May, but also attracts choking traffic and rowdy types who drink too much and pee too much.

But some of it's not: While it hunts for a neighborhood or community group to take the event over, the city wants to start collecting fees from the vendors who set up at the event—not right away, but "probably" at some point this year. Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says the mechanism and particulars have yet to be vetted with the city attorney's office or the city's revenue bureau. But that's just a hiccup on the way to change.

"He doesn't want this forevermore to be paid for by the taxpayers at large," Haynes says of his boss.

Hales took on the conflict over Last Thursday last year, to mixed success. He was following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Sam Adams, who also made attempts in his final year in office to raise money and control the event.

Hales' staff tried enforcing Last Thursday's hours of operation and started tracking nuisances tied to the event. But the new controls led to a falling out with the grass-roots community group that had been traditionally been seen as leading the event, Friends of Last Thursday. FoLT resigned in protest over the changes, and the mayor's office ran things for the rest of the season. The monthly event has cost the city at least $10,000 a month and often more.

In today's work session, said he hoped to do a hand off to a community group in time for next year, with that group stepping up to pay for the event and collect vendors fees.

Rumors abounded last year that Hales' staff wanted to get the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods to take things over. Talks this year haven't gotten that far yet—they've mostly involved figuring out the fee mechanism and running interference with city commissioners, the city's noise control officer, and the bureaus, like police and transportation, most affected by the event.

"But that's what we need to get to," Hales said. "The city needs to work its way out of that role."

Haynes said the one-year timeline is likely "aspirational" but not impossible. If the city starts collecting fees, he says, that might blaze a trail and ease concerns for a skeptical nonprofit or neighborhood group.

Asked fi FoLT might re-enter the picture, Haynes said it was his understanding that last year's falling out has shown no signs of thawing. On either side.

"We took them at their word," Haynes says, "when they said they resigned in anger."

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