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St. Louis Tourism Panel Approves Downtown Music Festival

(Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)
Steve Stogel, the chair of DFC Group and a major local backer of the proposed festival, speaks just before the committee vote on March 12, 2014.

Updated with comments from the hearing. Edited at 8:45 a.m. Thursday to correct typos.

After more than two days of debate, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen tourism committee approved plans for Lollapalooza-like festivals to be held in downtown St. Louis on Memorial Day and Labor Day Weekends.

The committee passed the proposal 8-0, with one person voting present. ICM Partners, the Los Angeles-based talent company that will produce the shows, said the legislation was the result of six months of negotiations with Mayor Francis Slay's office, but that the company had been looking at St. Louis for years.

Here's how the vote broke down:

  • Ayes: Young, Ortmann, Davis, Cohn, Hubbard, Ogilvie, Vollmer, Reed
  • Present: Tyus
  • Did not vote: Conway

Aldermen approved nearly 30 amendments over the three hours of debate, dealing with everything from who can see ticket records to who has the power to appoint the liaison that will help ICM navigate city bureaucracy.
Two amendments were designed to address concerns audience members and aldermen raised at the first hearing on the measure last week. One requires ICM to use, when  practical, 20 percent local talent, vendors and other sub-contractors.

Another amendment tightened up a controversial non-compete clause that drove much of the opposition to the bill. That clause says that between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the city cannot issue permits to "substantially similar" events. The new definition of "substantially similar" is:

  1. A multi-day, multi-stage festival that;
  2. Offers at least 30,000 tickets for sale per day of the festival;
  3. Has a daily budget of at least $3.3 million;
  4. Has music as its primary focus;
  5. Features more than five acts each day, and;
  6. Is produced by a for-profit company.

In addition, local festivals such as LouFest are grandfathered in, meaning they are eligible for permits regardless of how big they get.
Ald. Scott Ogilvie, who had raised many of the initial concerns about the legislation, pointed out that no festivals that have ever played St. Louis would meet those qualifications.

"A LouFest could happened every summer weekend in Forest Park," he said.

But the stricter definition wasn't enough to mollify critics of the bill from the city's music community.

"If we've never had a festival of this size, why do we need a non-compete clause?" asked Jeremy Segel-Moss, a local blues musician who started a MoveOn.org petition against the measure. He was one of many who accused the city of failing to support the city's blues heritage by setting aside weekends for country and rock music festivals.

"What is the cultural cost of the festival?" Segel-Moss said. "We've already lost Bluesweek, which helped celebrate black culture."

The charge that a large-scale festival would be bad for local musicians baffled Randy Freedman, ICM's senior director of legal and business affairs.

"Opening for major acts is a resume booster," Freedman said, adding that ICM planned to make the blues a key part of any concert they produced in St. Louis.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay issued a statement on his official Facebook pagefollowing the vote, saying that the event is "worth trying." 

My bottom line is this: I want St. Louis to be the place where people come to have fun at big events. There is no guarantee that this particular event will ever actually happen. But, if it does, this will be a very big event in our own backyard. That’s worth trying.

The full Board of Aldermen will likely take a preliminary vote on the measure on Friday. By board rules, they cannot send it to Mayor Slay until April 14, which is the last day of the aldermanic session.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter@rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.