Sean O'Keefe Events and the Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces — the people behind art festivals in the Old Fourth Ward, Piedmont Park Arts and Chastain — are holding an "avant-garde, European-style" masquerade party on October 25, but not everyone is ready to grab a mask. The controversy stems from the party's location: the Krog Street Tunnel, which will be closed to the public while paid attendees enjoy drinks, DJs, body art, burlesque performances and whatever the hell "transformative vignettes behind a red velvet curtain" means.
Some angry Reynoldstown and Cabbagetown residents have been vocal about their objections to the event, citing a lack of support from neighborhood associations and a lack of financial benefit to the neighborhoods. One commenter on the event's Facebook invite summed up the concerns: "This might sound cool to you people who don't live in Reynoldstown or Cabbagetown but we use this tunnel in the way it was intended — as a traffic tunnel. The organizers of this event will close the tunnel to ALL traffic from Fri night to Sun afternoon, including pedestrian traffic. The neighborhood associations voted against this and the organizers stated they submitted permits to the city anyway."
In truth, the closures are not as extensive as some have reported and interestingly, ticket sales reports revealed to Curbed Atlanta show that the majority of ticketholders, thus far, are Reynoldstown and Cabbagetown residents. So, do the communities want this, or not? Curbed Atlanta spoke to promoter Randall D. Fox of the Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces to get some clarity on these issues.
Curbed Atlanta: One of the primary concerns we're hearing is that the tunnel will be closed from Friday night through Sunday afternoon to pedestrians, cyclists and cars. Is that accurate?
Randall Fox: No, the tunnel will be closed to traffic from Friday night/Saturday morning at 1 a.m. until Sunday morning, just hours after the party. You're looking at a period of about 28 to 30 hours of closure for cars, during the tunnel's quietest, least-used time of day. There will be pedestrian and bicycle access through the tunnel all day Friday and Saturday, right up until the event starts at 8 p.m. It will reopen at 2 a.m. on Sunday, after the event. So for pedestrians and bikes, it's only closed for about five to six hours. The goal is to have as little impact as possible while creating a never-done-before event. If we find that it takes less time to set up than anticipated, we'll know for planning for next year. [Organizers expect that it will be an annual event.]
CA: How do you justify closing a public thoroughfare for a paid, ticketed event?
RF: This event is no different than, say, the Peachtree Road Race and the St. Patrick's Day parade that close down Peachtree Road, or the Red Bull Soap Box Derby, or Sweet Auburn Festival. The difference here, is that it's the iconic Krog Tunnel, easily one of the most recognizable landmarks in Atlanta. And, let's face it, no one has ever done it before, so sure, there is the fear unknown and what to anticipate. Luckily, there are several other access points that will allow for traffic access, which is why we are being permitted to do this.
CA: How did you manage to get a permit for this?
Anyone that simply follows the permitting process, works with the city and follows the guidelines will find that things can be accomplished. It's no different than closing the surrounding streets for the other events that occur. Also, keep in mind the tunnel has been closed before for movie shots and production set-ups. The City of Atlanta permitting process is very easily navigated, and the mayor's Office of Special Events has been amazing to work with. The city encourages new events and venues as a way to make the city an exciting place to live and work.
CA: What about other impacts on the neighborhood? Parking, trash clean-up, that kind of thing?
RF: We will be posting "residential parking only" signs up and around the neighborhood, so residents won't have trouble with that. And we have a crew that has been hired to do clean-up and maintenance of the event. Also, we have offered, at the request of several of the Cabbagetown residents, to donate flower beds and greenspace around the tunnel for its beautification.
CA: Who did you talk to about the event when you started planning it?
I met with several local businesses — some of which are participating, like 97 Estoria and Sweet Cheats and some of which are making their parking lots available — before we started the permitting process. Any request that has come to me to meet with anyone, I have welcomed. I was asked if I would attend the Cabbagetown and Reynoldstown neighborhood meetings. I told them I would be more than happy to but I never received an invitation or instructions. I did end up attending the Cabbagetown meeting, but only after learning the date and time from the chairperson of Chomp and Stomp, who we have been working closely with. As a matter of fact, she designed our schematic for us of the tunnel. We have made every effort to be transparent in this process and share information, I have even sat down and talked with surrounding groups and business that want to plan to participate either this year or next year.
CA: Community members who have wanted to express their concerns have said you are difficult to reach. They claim emails sent to you have bounced back. [Curbed successfully used the email address that allegedly bounces to reach Mr. Fox today.] Is that true?
RF: Someone said, 'You gave me the wrong email address.' I'm like the easiest person there is to find. I'm an open book and I'm happy to be available for any questions or suggestions. You can share whatever in the article — office email, personal email, go for it. Anyone can reach me at any time with any questions.
[Mr. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (office email), email@example.com (personal email), or 404-873-1222 (office phone).]