When word got out that organizers had begun plotting a party that could take over Cabbagetown’s iconic Krog Street Tunnel this Halloween, neighbors readied their proverbial pitchforks.
After all, in 2014, when a likeminded group was preparing a similar event—the so-called “Krog Masquerade”—a collective of locals converged on the graffiti-laden underpass and painted it grey. The intent was to deprive folks they considered affluent Buckhead-types of access to the artwork the community had lovingly plastered on the walls.
Now, a group of different organizers is trying to shut down the street for another posh party that could host up to 1,500 people in the tunnel, which doubles as part of the Beltline’s Eastside Trail now.
During a Cabbagetown Neighborhood Improvement Association meeting at Carroll Street restaurant JenChan’s on Tuesday evening, residents heard from organizer Jim Shumake, a local events coordinator, who said he regularly hosts extravaganzas that woo upwards of 15,000 people.
“I am here to collaborate with you,” Shumake said. “But let’s start from a point where we assume this festival will happen.”
Cabbagetown locals, remembering when visitors had barged into their neighborhood years earlier, didn’t care for the organizer’s smug demeanor.
The proposed October party, called “The Devil’s Ball,” calls for detours around Krog Street Tunnel on a night when many local kids will be trick-or-treating.
Cabbagetown residents in attendance said their opposition is more than an effort to keep visitors from exploiting local art for profit; it’s a push to ensure crowds don’t clog a major artery that could be critical for emergency responders. Keeping the neighborhood clean is another concern.
Shumake said he’s been working with local police and fire officials, and that the event team has six employees specifically on garbage duty.
But when confronted by a neighbor Tuesday about how the event could be an “extreme inconvenience” for regular travelers of an important thoroughfare in the pint-sized neighborhood, Shumake responded, “Calm down; drink some tea.”
Current plans call for at least one of Krog Street’s elevated sidewalks to remain open during the masquerade ball. Concerns of accessibility, however, weren’t the only thing on locals’ minds.
Meeting attendees wondered aloud where the event’s profits are going, nodding to the $50 admission fee. Many neighbors said a portion of the proceeds should go back to a community that would sacrifice one of its main access points.
Shumake said his team had reached a sort of compromise with residents in neighboring Reynoldstown: A signature “Reynoldstown cocktail” will be served at the event, and proceeds from the drink are expected to go toward a local arts program. That could be an option for Cabbagetown, too, he said.
“I think that, even if people in Buckhead or Alpharetta or Johns Creek are willing to be exposed to this area, and they’re willing to come back and spend money in this area, that’s a great thing for the local businesses,” Shumake said.
Regarding concerns for the children—Shumake acknowledged the event might feature sultry or risqué themes—the organizer told Cabbagetown reps that curtains would be hung to separate the tunnel’s walkways from its automobile lanes.
That, of course, prompted questions about how the party would be lit—Krog Street Tunnel features lights only on the sidewalks, not the road—and whether the event could be a major fire hazard, with people potentially smoking between fabric walls.
With a grin, Shumake noted that his permit application called for a generator. It also mentioned a need for attendees to park along nearby streets.
Asked if the neighborhood’s disdain for the party would impact plans, Shumake told Curbed Atlanta, “I am not the devil incarnate; I’m willing to work with the community.” He added that he would be willing to use some of the take to donate to neighborhood programs, if such an agreement could be orchestrated amicably.
Shumake also said he’d secured all requisite permits for the event, despite the local neighborhood planning unit unanimously voting against his proposal.
Of course, there are rumblings around the neighborhood about potential plans to paint over the tunnel once again.
“If they want to [whitewash] it again, we’ll buy the paint,” Shumake said. “The art is part of what makes Krog Street Tunnel iconic, but ... a lot of the art you won’t be able to see at night anyway because the lighting is already kind of bad, and we’re going have it dimmed. It’s not necessarily about the art; it’s about the space we’re going to have it in.”
So all signs point to a second incarnation of the subterranean soiree happening at the end of October.
Atlanta City Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong, who represents the district, told Curbed as much after the meeting. She added that local lawmakers could do more to ensure that such events are conducted in a safe manner and, ideally, with the coordination of the neighborhood.
The Mayor’s Office of Special Events, Archibong said, sees plans like this as being protected by the freedom of expression and the right to assemble, which limits the city council’s role.
“If we can show the city that there’s a need for more eyes on this and a different approach,” Archibong added, “that may be a game-changer.”