City requires advance permits for SXSW

Alexa Ura

South by Southwest organizers are trying to avoid last minute festival chaos by addressing questions about venue permit application changes announced earlier this week.

After criticisms of last minute changes in ordinance guidelines last year, city officials held an open house to address the new 24-hour and multi-day permit process for this year’s SXSW festival. Representatives from various city departments involved with SXSW gathered at the former Austin City Limits studio at UT to sit down with business and venue owners Thursday night. Organized by Austin Music People, the event was held to answer questions about the new application periods for 24-hour and multi-day event permits.

This year, venues must submit applications for 24-hour permits 21 days before their events, and multi-day permits must be submitted 30 days before events. Applicants are required to include a temporary event impact plan in their application assessing traffic and parking issues, anticipated attendance and other potential impacts.

Don Pitts, manager for the city’s Music Office, said the change in deadline was prompted after 40 percent of last year’s SXSW venues did not submit their applications until the week before their event.

“As a city, we need to raise the bar in terms of the huge responsibility of this event,” Pitts said. “We are here today to prepare ahead of time and be able to distribute resources during the festival. It’s not about moving the goal post for participants but about working as the same team.”

Pitts said these plans are important to have before events take place so the city can better prepare for crowd mobs during events that “tweet out surprise guests at the last minute” like they did last year.

Austin Police Department Special Events Unit officers also spoke to business and venue owners about working together during the festival to ensure a safer event.

Commander William Manno said having a set deadline will help the police to better handle a wider variety of situations during the festival.

“Last minute permits make it difficult to assess the impact on surrounding areas for wherever that permit is for especially in the case of neighborhood areas,” Manno said. “If we have those applications in before, we can better prepare for noise, traffic or other issues.”

Joseph Strickland, co-owner of Home Slice Pizza, said last year’s SXSW was difficult because City Council members made changes to the outdoor event guidelines on short notice.

Home Slice Pizza has hosted a 3-day unofficial party during SXSW since they first opened six years ago. Strickland said last year was the first year they had any problems with code enforcement.

“Austin Music People is doing a better job at working with the city and sending information out through community outreach this year, and that’s all you can ask for as a business owner,” he said. “We need to know guidelines beforehand in order to comply with them.