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Sunday April 20th 2014

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Councilman Pays for Party

Gallery Night will run until midnight. At least this month.

During this morning’s Downtown Improvement Board meeting, Pensacola City Councilman Brian Spencer ponied up $2,500 of his discretionary spending to ensure that the Nov. 16 event features the extended hours.

“That’s the taxpayer’s money, by the way,” Spencer said after making the offer.

Downtown businesses usually foot the bill for the extended hours of street closure, but during the Oct. 19 Gallery Night no one stepped in with the needed funds. When police hired by the DIB began opening the streets up at 9 p.m., Mayor Ashton Hayward, apparently unaware of the schedule change, took issue with police tactics. Comments made by Hayward led to the Fraternal Order of Police requesting that the city council investigate the mayor for intimidation. The administration, in turn, has asserted that the union is using the incident as a tool in the currently-at-an-impasse contract negotiations between the city and police.

Since the Oct. 19 incident, there have been calls for consistency when it comes to Gallery Night hours. Several attendees at today’s DIB meeting, including Spencer, made that argument.

“It’s got to be a consistent message,” Ed Carson, DIB treasurer, said early on in the meeting. “How late is it staying open? Who’s paying for what?”

Suggestions ranged from splitting the current Gallery Night into two events—an earlier arts event, and a late-night street party—to shutting down South Palafox with bollards every Friday and Saturday night. Some people also suggested that other entities, such as the city of Pensacola or chamber of commerce provide the funding needed to consistently run until midnight.

Councilman Spencer, who also sits on the DIB, said he thought the city might be more willing to discuss its involvement than in the past in light of recent events.

“I think recent publicity has provided much more attention and motivation on the part of the city,” he said.

City Administrator Bill Reynolds, also at this morning’s meeting, wasn’t as sure. He said that Gallery Night was a special event and that the city did not fund such events.

“Our role is to permit it and to provide the services to make it happen,” Reynolds said, adding that other organizations also approach the city with such requests. “If we sponsor or do something for one, it’s very difficult for the city to say, ‘no, no no you’re a different special event.’”

Spencer then suggested that Gallery Night was not a special event.

“That’s semantics,” Reynolds said.

“You bet it is, and it’s used all the time,” Spencer told him.

Diane Mack, a former city councilwoman, suggested the city absorb the event—“If the city decides to adopt Gallery Night as its event, it’s not semantics.”

Though Spencer’s discretionary funding contribution covers this month’s event, the schedule of future Gallery Nights remain uncertain. The DIB this morning decided to have its Special Events Committee confer with city administration in an effort to formulate a plan going forward.