WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Mayor Jeri Muoio wants the city's downtown to thrive - but without revved-up motorcycle engines, hip-hop music and late-night noise that disturbs condo dwellers.
Muoio is going after some of West Palm Beach's most popular events, including SunFest, saying event planners have to be more considerate of downtown residents.
And the West Palm Beach City Commission is considering changing some of its policies, including limiting major events at the waterfront to twice a month, setting limits on decibel levels, and requiring event promoters to pay for a city staff member to closely monitor both the event and the cleanup.
The proposed changes follow three weeks of what Muoio and commissioners described as incessant noise downtown, beginning with SunFest and followed by the Soul Food Festival and a motorcycle showcase.
"I'm tired of getting emails, and I'm sure the commission is tired of getting emails," Muoio said last week at a city commission workshop. "We just have to figure out how to make this stop."
SunFest officials said they were surprised at the criticism . Paul Jamieson, executive director of SunFest, said city officials should have approached him in private before publicly criticizing the festival.
Festival officials said SunFest, which began 30 years ago as a small jazz-and-art festival, has turned into the largest non-techno music festival in South Florida and generates $15 million a year of spending in the city.
SunFest also has a 10-year deal with the city that runs until 2016 giving it control of artists and allows the music to go on until 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on the weekends.
But Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell said SunFest should consider turning off the music earlier. Muoio blasted the festival for bringing in popular rap artists Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa.
Muoio said Khalifa had been arrested twice in a month for possessing small amounts of marijuana, including two nights before his Thursday night appearance at SunFest.
"I'm not a prude about this stuff, but really what are we saying about this city when Thursday night is Wiz Khalifa and Snoop Dogg?" Muoio said. "I don't like the crowds they brought, the behavior of the crowd they brought, and the number of drugs that were around."
Festival organizers, however, say the two broke Thursday night attendance records.
"Wiz Khalifa just won the Billboard Music Award for top new performing artist," Jamieson said. "We've had criticism whenever we bring in hip-hop artists, and the fact of the matter is they're some of the most popular artists that we have. I'm sure in the 1950s, if we brought in Elvis (Presley), the people who loved Tommy Dorsey would have complained about Elvis. ."
Jamieson also said Muoio hadn't approached him with any issues about the smell of marijuana, which is common at many music festivals.
Christine Thrower, West Palm Beach's parks and recreation director, said the city received "overwhelmingly positive comments about SunFest this year," with only a "handful of negatives."
"It was a well-run event and well-executed," Thrower said. "It is loud, but live bands with national acts are loud."
A public records request showed that Muoio received a handful of email complaints.
Bill Newgent, who ran the political action committee that raised $18,000 for the late Bill Moss' commission re-election campaign in March, wrote an email the night of Snoop Dogg and Khalifa's performance, telling Muoio that condo dwellers want to leave downtown because of event noise.
"Mutual friends of ours who live in beautiful million-dollar condos often leave town (during SunFest) and would love to sell largely because of the festival and nightclub-related inconvenience," Newgent wrote.
An attorney representing Trump Plaza Condo emailed Muoio about "encroachment issues" during SunFest, while other residents said festival organizers were making noise as late as 2 a.m.
Attorney Lynda Harris said the Soul Food Festival the following weekend was even louder than SunFest.
"Maybe city department heads should be forced to attend the events from beginning to end to deal with the disruption they cause to the lives of downtown residents," Harris wrote.
This year, a consultant hired by the city to bring more life to the waterfront suggested SunFest move to the South Florida Fairgrounds or Currie Park so the city could eliminate the wide-open space at the waterfront.
Jamieson said he wants SunFest to stay downtown, although he wouldn't rule out leaving the city when the contract ends in 2016.
Raphael Clemente, director of the Downtown Development Authority, said it's tough to find the right balance between a lively downtown and one that downtown residents can enjoy.
While Muoio has often talked about her desire for a high-end downtown, and criticized the idea of putting a 7-Eleven on Clematis Street, a recent DDA study found that the largest demographic to visit the area was younger than 35 years old.
And 33 percent of people said their
main reason to visit downtown was for events, entertainment or bars .
"This is an entertainment district and an urban environment and people move here and they know that," Clemente said. "But just the fact that they know they're moving into a downtown doesn't mean that we should disregard completely the impacts."