City, GADEC to focus on application standards

The city and the Greater Altoona Economic Development Corp. are working together to solve what they agree is a good problem to have.

An increasing number of organizations want to hold events at Heritage Plaza, and some of those events haven’t worked out as well as the parties might have liked, according to GAEDC CEO Patrick Miller and City Manager Marla Marcinko.

They want to fortify the city’s permit application for public-property gatherings to weed out problematic events — or ensure they come up to a higher standard.

“We want to make sure they are quality events that the organizations can pull off for the good of the community,” Miller said at a GAEDC meeting Monday.

They should be well-run and add value, he said.

A “flop” doesn’t benefit anyone, he said.

Some events “have not been terribly successful for a number of reasons,” said Marcinko, who, like Miller, didn’t specify which events have not worked out. “There were a couple of events that if we had had the opportunity, there would have been better vetting.”

The “tweaks” the city administrative staff and Miller will make will require organizers to apply in plenty of time, describe what they’re about and what they’re proposing to do in more detail and explain what they’ve done in other communities — and how they can make what they plan for Altoona better, according to Marcinko and Miller.

Some organizations have been applying for permits only a week or so in advance, Miller said.

The city also plans to ensure that the appropriate departments — including public works and police — have their say on what will be happening at the plaza and on the streets, Marcinko said.

The parties don’t want event users “to trash the place” or to hold something “inappropriate,” Miller said.

Some judgment on applications may end up being “subjective,” Miller conceded.

Marcinko wasn’t sure about including “appropriateness,” as a criterion, given First Amendment rights.

Asked whether tightening guidelines could lead to complaints or court filings when events are denied, Marcinko said, “We’ll try to avoid that by establishing guidelines that are fair and equitable.”

“(It’s more about) having the applicant demonstrate to us they have they capacity to host the event successfully,” Marcinko said.

What’s wanted are events that are “well-managed and well-attended,” Miller said.

Organizers and attendees need to be responsible and should “take care of the asset,” said Jane Sheffield, a GAEDC board member.

There should be no “disrespect” of the plaza or of individuals in attendance and there must be no violence, Sheffield said.

The city already requires a $1-million liability policy that not only covers the organizations holding events, but also the city, Miller said.

There are stricter requirements when alcohol is served, he said.

The insurance requirements probably help organizers to “think harder” about the ramifications of what they’re planning, Sheffield said.

“We’re getting a lot of requests,” some from familiar organizations, some from unfamiliar ones, Miller said.

There’s something scheduled this year for almost every weekend during the warm season, he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.