Consultant Recommends Austin Create Safety Plan for Festival

October 3, 2014

A consulting firm has advised Austin, Texas, to create a safety plan limiting how many other events occur the week of the South by Southwest festival.

The festival hired event consulting firm Populous after four people died and others were injured in a crash during last year’s event, the Austin American-Statesman reported. An artist was also arrested after being accused of trying to incite a riot.

The festival’s planners have long argued the city’s downtown area is filled with crowds because of non-sanctioned, pop-up events by businesses. They say people are drawn into the venues with the promise of free alcohol and that those businesses can’t handle large crowds.

The report was sent Tuesday to the City Council and the mayor. It said “unruly behavior, inability to access events and activities, and unsafe conditions” threaten the festival’s success.

“If SXSW cannot sustain success and growth in the future, like any business they will eventually need to make decisions about whether or not they can continue to exist in their current format and location,” the report said. “It is very possible that SXSW will have no choice but to entertain notions of bidding their event to other cities to sustain their business model.”

But the festival’s co-founder and managing director Roland Swenson said he doesn’t foresee that happening.

“Our fear is that we’re just not going to be able to do it anymore because of all of these different factors that are emerging and growing out of control,” Swenson said.

In a letter sent with the study, he also said the festival should get priority permitting for its events.

Austin’s special events staff declined to comment on the report. City spokeswoman Alicia Dean said putting the festival ahead of other events for permits would be a decision left up to the City Council.

Council member Mike Martinez wrote a resolution directing the city to issue its own report about the festival. He said he looked forward to reviewing the Populous report and “continuing to work with SXSW and all other stakeholders.”

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