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Music organizer fed up with “un-friendly” City Hall

Cross post from HatCityBLOG

In light of the last honest man’s restrictive city regulations that resulted in the closing of another establishment on Ives Street, here’s another situation where people at City Hall are accused of being business un-friendly.

Amanda Bloom of the Mercurial wrote a great piece regarding the increased frustration among organizers of independent music venues when it comes to working with city officials.

In two years, Anthony Yacobellis’ Safe To Swim(STS) festival brought 77 bands to Danbury over the span of two weekends, most of them performing on the Danbury Green at no charge to the public. Though he saw only growth in crowds, sponsorship and vendors in the festival’s second year, Yacobellis has decided to forego a third STS on the Green. The reason? Over $4,000 in unexpected costs and and an overwhelming frustration with the city.

That $4000 comes on top of the money Yacobellis invested in both years of the event, including paying the bands–every single one. STS was born as a celebration of the music that Yacobellis showcases at Cousin Larry’s with his almost nightly Sub Rosa Party. One of the foundations of Sub Rosa is a promise to take care of the artist, and the name for STS came from the concept of “no sharks”.

“Ironically, it’s not safe to swim for me,” Yacobellis said in a phone interview. “I got thrown under the bus.”

Yacobellis, a 34-year-old schoolteacher by day, had a stage built to supplement the bandshell on the Green for the first STS in 2008. He was under the impression that the stage had been approved after complying with specifications supplied by the Building Department, but he was informed the week of STS that his proposal had failed. According to Yacobellis, the Building Department denied making any edits to his blueprints and put the blame on Andrea Gartner, the manager of CityCenter Danbury, who was acting as Yacobellis’ liaison with various city departments. The stage had already been paid for and built at this point, but Yacobellis had no choice but to rent another one for almost $1000.

Later on, the Building Department came to realize that they had indeed made an error. They invited Yacobellis down to the office to figure out what went wrong, and it came down to one employee’s mistake. “They yelled at him in front of me,” Yacobellis said. “They demeaned him .”

The following year, Gartner suggested that they move the STS date from July to Labor Day weekend, thereby keeping CityCenter’s Summer Concert Series in tact and making Danbury a holiday weekend destination. Moving the date also bumped STS from the CityCenter event bracket, eliminating the complimentary police security that goes along with CityCenter events. Yacobellis found himself signing an invoice quoting police security at $3400. He had paid $800 the previous year.

“The festival only grew in the second year,” he said. “and I lost more money than the first year. And not from my mistakes.”

There were other snafus too. Yacobellis kept all of the paperwork from year one and resubmitted all of the forms with a different date. Initially, the Building Department couldn’t locate his file, and during the actual festival, one of the vendors was hassled by the Health Department for selling prepackaged food and drinks with a peddler’s license.

“No one can do their job,” Yacobellis said. “For an event like this, you have to do X, Y and Z. X doesn’t know Z, Z hates X and Y is dependent on Z. I did my job; I can’t be expected to do the Building Department’s job or the Police Department’s job.”

Here Yacobellis and Gartner are of the same mind. Both see a minimal level of cooperation throughout the city and cite it as the main reason for a subpar downtown. Only recently, Gartner had to find her own way to hang the Connecticut Film Festival banners from the CityCenter office, though the city provided the service for the library directly across the street

“People have siloed themselves,” Gartner said in an interview. “It’s individual property owners acting on their own behalf. With a concerted effort, [Danbury] could really be something.”

Gartner referred to the STS police bill as an oversight on her part. “I think it’s forgivable,” she said. “I had only been on the job for two years at that point.” For the third festival, she offered to wrap STS into the CityCenter series, which would incorporate some police coverage and grant more leeway with permits. Yacobellis declined.

Here Yacobellis and Gartner are of the same mind. Both see a minimal level of cooperation throughout the city and cite it as the main reason for a subpar downtown. Only recently, Gartner had to find her own way to hang the Connecticut Film Festival banners from the CityCenter office, though the city provided the service for the library directly across the street

“People have siloed themselves,” Gartner said in an interview. “It’s individual property owners acting on their own behalf. With a concerted effort, [Danbury] could really be something.”

Gartner referred to the STS police bill as an oversight on her part. “I think it’s forgivable,” she said. “I had only been on the job for two years at that point.” For the third festival, she offered to wrap STS into the CityCenter series, which would incorporate some police coverage and grant more leeway with permits. Yacobellis declined.

If you ever wondered why bar and restaurants seemed to have increase in popularity on Mill Plain Road while Ives Street looks like a deserted island, this article should give you a clue.

I highly encourage you to read the rest of Bloom’s write-up over at the Mercurial website.