City Denies License For Shoreline Spectacular 2011, Future In Question

Andrew Trzaska | February 23, 2011

This year’s Shoreline Spectacular festival may not go on as planned because the City of Muskegon denied a special event liquor license request by the event’s organizers on Tuesday.

Two reasons were cited, but event organizers walked away from the event questioning each line of reasoning.

The commission officially cited in its agenda that the city staff’s recommendation was to deny the request based on an “unpaid” invoice from the 2010 Shoreline Spectacular Festival.

Poor weather conditions have been cited as reasons for an underperforming first year for the new Shoreline Spectacular.  That soft first year left the Shoreline Foundation with a roughly $15,000 bill, and only a little over half has been paid off at the time of Tuesday’s meeting.

Carey cited overstaffing of the event by police as a reason for the large bill.  Carey and Rod Bordeaux, staff for the Shoreline Foundation, both claimed at Tuesday’s meeting that a lesser police presence would have reduced the bill to a manageable amount.

Answering that claim, Lawrence Spataro pointed out that whether or not the event was seemed overstaffed, the cost of police staffing was fixed.  Essentially, whether or not police were at the event, they were required to be on call and therefore paid overtime for the event.

The second reason for the denial comes from the city’s revised Special Events policy, passed by the City Commission late last year.  It requires applicants looking to get liquor licenses for events on Labor Day weekend to have their requests reviewed by Muskegon’s City Commission.

The Muskegon Police Department must also review the request, and chose to deny it before Tuesday’s meeting.

Board members said when the policy was revised last year that Labor Day weekend was singled out because it falls at the end of the traditionally festival-heavy summer, and is a weekend where city staff resources, including police, are often spread incredibly thin across more events than any other weekend of the summer.

Carey and Bordeaux challenged both reasons, citing other festivals and claiming a double standard.
For the invoice, Carey cited Summer Celebration, who developed a plan with the city late last year to pay its unpaid bills over the next three years.

Carey noted that she had not yet discussed with the city any sort of similar installment payment plan, but stated that the 2010 bill could be paid off ahead of the anticipated 2011 event.

For the staffing concerns, Carey cited the Breakwater Festival, which she claims ended up paying very little or possibly none at all for city services last Labor Day weekend.

A similar vote on the Breakwater Festival’s liquor license was pulled from Tuesday’s agenda.  Therefore, no vote was taken on their request Tuesday night.

Representatives from Breakwater’s planning organization were not available for comment at the time this article was published.

Commissioners’ feelings on the issue were mixed. Most vocal in the debate were Clara Shepherd and Spataro.

Shepherd expressed a sense of value in the city’s heavy festival schedule.  She ended up being one of two commissioners to vote against denying the license:

“Muskegon is one of the most partying towns I’ve ever seen in my life… we live off of it.”

Spataro cited impending state and federal budget cuts as a reason for his vote to deny the license.  He said that 2010 saw the city barely scrape by with staffing for all of the summer’s festivals.

“It’s not about the money… I just don’t see how we’re going to have enough warm bodies to go around.”

Spataro also noted that he would vote similarly against a Breakwater Festival request for the same reason when it comes up for a vote.

After Tuesday’s denial, Carey noted that the festival would continue to explore its legal options and explore new dates and locations for the event.

“We aren’t going away.”

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst