On Jan. 7, the city of Austin released a statement on special event permits during spring break, the week of the South by Southwest Music Festival. The statement noted that the deadline for applications was Feb. 5 at 5 p.m. It also said the city has set an application cap of 120 events this year. An internal memo from William Manno, the city of Austin’s special events program manager, sent out Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 6 p.m. and provided to the Statesman by Jennifer Houlihan of Austin Music People on Thursday, announced that the city had reached the event application cap. Organizers for several prominent events, who had planned to file applications by the Feb. 5 deadline, were sent scrambling by the early cutoff.
Among those caught in the lurch is the South by Southwest Music Festival itself. Festival organizers failed to get in the permit application for St. David’s Church. The downtown church has hosted popular SXSW showcases for years, including capacity shows from Fort Worth soul sensation Leon Bridges and French Cuban sister duo Ibeyi in 2015.
“(The application for) St. David’s church was 24 hours late (or 24 hours early based on the published February 5 deadline depending on how you look at it),” SXSW organizers said Friday morning.
Also caught up was South by San Jose. At this point the permit for the long-running free, family-friendly event that takes place each year in the parking lot of Jo’s Coffee and the Hotel San Jose is up in the air, as it was turned in after the Tuesday cutoff.
“The city has always told us we’ve been exemplary in how we’ve engaged in the permitting process, and we’ve held this event for 16 years,” Isadora McKeon from Hotel San Jose said Friday afternoon.
Since the event has such a long history, McKeon said she didn’t feel a sense of urgency about the permit application beyond the need to get it in by the Feb. 5 deadline. “(It was) certainly not conveyed that they were reaching the maximum number (of permits),” she said. “That information seems almost impossible to find anywhere and in fact the city’s website continued to accept permit applications after their apparent internal cutoff decision.”
“The February 5th deadline/120 application limit is an effort to improve customer service with thorough review and enhanced management,” Manno said in the Jan. 7 statement. “Our goal always is to provide event planners with adequate support from the City of Austin, this deadline will ensure that we are able to provide that support.”
A release from the Austin Center of Events on Jan. 27 announced plans to curb permits issued during the week of South by Southwest by 25 percent this year. “Based on the volume of permit applications already received for events during this time period, ACE staff anticipates it will stop accepting applications in early February,” it said. “The early cut-off will give staff adequate time to thoroughly review each application for compliance with safety, traffic and sound requirements.”
McKeon feels the city should take a more comprehensive approach to the permit application process especially in light of the recent talk about the negative impact of some corporate-sponsored parties with no direct ties to the Austin community.
“We’re people who live here all the time so we’re very conscious of the impact of our event on the community and we feel that it has tremendous value,” McKeon said. “We benefit local charities, we benefit local small businesses, we benefit local musicians.”
On Friday morning, SXSW organizers said they were working with the city to see if there is a resolution to the St. David’s situation.
McKeon said her event is also looking for a resolution. “We’ve been told by some people that they won’t accept our application, but we are continuing to engage on all levels,” she said.