THURSDAY, MARCH 5, 2015 – To save taxpayer money, Mayor Charlie Hales is proposing changes to the Last Thursday celebration, including reducing the city’s involvement from five months to three. Sponsors also are being sought for the event.
“We have three goals for Last Thursday,” Mayor Hales said. “To celebrate the arts on Northeast Alberta Street. To be a good neighbor. And to reduce the impact on taxpayers throughout the city. To accomplish these three goals, Last Thursday probably has to get smaller, temporarily, in order to get bigger and better in the long run.”
The street fair, now in its 18th season, began as an art walk and has mushroomed into a street fair that reaches crowds of up to 20,000 people during the peak of the season. Today, Last Thursday stretches for 15 blocks along Alberta Street.
In recent years, neighbors complained that the celebration ran all night and resulted in loud music and lawlessness into the early morning hours. The cost to city taxpayers also grew to an estimated $75,000 to $80,000 per year, including expenses from the Police, Fire and Rescue, and the Transportation bureaus, as well as the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. The Mayor’s Office also covered the cost of port-a-potties, garbage, recycling and security services.
This year, Mayor Hales is recommending reducing the city’s full involvement to the last Thursdays of June, July and August; eliminating May and September. That should reduce the taxpayer cost by as much as 40 percent. The decision means Northeast Albert Street will remain open to traffic in May and September. The street closure has been an essential part of the celebration since 2008.
Vendors also are being asked to register in order to set up in the right-of-way. And the city is seeking sponsorships and donations from the Alberta Street businesses, vendors, and outside organizations to help cover the cost for taxpayers.
“It’s a fairness issue,” Mayor Hales said. “Many neighborhoods hold annual celebrations, which are popular and terrific. But those neighborhoods are expected to pick up the tab. Taxpayers throughout the city have picked up the tab for Last Thursday. That’s not a sustainable practice, and it’s not fair.”
To ease into the cost-savings, Mayor Hales initiated other changes last year, which have been well-received by festival attendees and neighbors. That includes ending the celebrations at 9 p.m. and reducing the number of blocks closed to traffic.