OnMilwaukee.com first reported the "No more carry-ins at Jazz in the Park" story this week and it created quite a stir. Now, we have the first interview Kate Borders, the executive director of the East Town Association and director of the event.
For the first 18 years of Milwaukee's most popular free, weekly live music gathering, organizers allowed alcohol carry-ins of all shapes, types and sizes.
The practice ends this summer. The State of Wisconsin is cracking down and this has forced the East Town Association to make a major policy change.
Borders she was open, honest and forthright.
This is Borders' fifth season at the helm of the East Town Association. She's grown the event tremendously, while also making Bastille Days and the East Town Farm Market into marquee events.
Here's the scoop, straight from the head of Jazz in the Park. Read, enjoy and react. And, don't miss the exclusive audio podcast with even more insight and questions.
OnMilwaukee.com: What are the expenses for the event? East Town has to pay the artists, rent the park, bag the meters and hire security, right?
Kate Borders: Yes. Other costs are stage, sound, lights, equipment rentals, port-o-johns, staff, etc. The expenses of the event are increasing every year just as every other business' expenses are increasing.
OMC: Was the event losing money?
KB: Over the past 10 years, profits have decreased every year but we have worked hard to offset those decreases by securing additional sponsors. This comes at a cost, as well, because sponsors are interested in having their client events at Jazz in the Park. Many patrons are unhappy with the space occupied by sponsor tents, but it is those sponsors that allow us to continue to produce the event at no charge. So the answer is, yes and no. Profits are constantly decreasing, but sponsorships are allowing the event to continue to break even.
OMC: How will you limit lines at the bars?
KB: We will make certain to have enough point of sale locations to accommodate the guests at the park.
OMC: What will be sold?
KB: We haven't confirmed the beverage menu at this time, but we are working with our distributors to make certain that we have quality products on the grounds at a variety of price points and at various quantities. We also are going to work to keep all prices down. The goal is not to have huge mark-ups.
OMC: Why hasn't this been an issue for the first 18 years?
KB: The Milwaukee Police Department brought this to our attention during the 2008 summer season. Honestly, I think that the event has recently gotten so crowded that it has become more of a concern, when, possibly, in the past it simply wasn't on the radar screen. Although no alcohol-related incident has ever occurred at the event, MPD wants to make certain that remains the case. Over the last few years the event has been overflowing into the streets and becoming a bit of a challenge for the neighborhood businesses and residents.
OMC: Isn't there some kind of middle ground?
KB: I think that this is the middle ground. When this was first brought to our attention in July, the Board of Directors started meeting on a regular basis and truly went through every possible option and what it would mean to the future of the event. I could walk you through every scenario that we considered, but it would bore you to tears. We held focus groups, conducted a survey, met with city, county, MPD, other Downtown association leaders, called dozens of similar events in other cities and discussed their policies, and we finally arrived at this decision. We will now be obeying the law, we will make every effort to have prices on the grounds that are close to grocery store prices, people can still bring whatever food they want to bring, and most importantly, the event is still free.
OMC: There's no way to police this, so how will you try?
KB: The first step is informing the public of the new policy, which is what we are doing now. I believe in the integrity of our guests and I think the majority of our patrons will be self-governing and will want to cooperate with the new policy. Our enforcement plan will be to have private security at the perimeters of the event informing guests of the new policy as they enter the event. People with alcoholic beverages will be asked to return them to their cars or dispose of them. Are we doing pat downs? Of course not! But we plan to make a concerted effort to follow the letter of the law for the health and safety of our patrons.
OMC: I'm gonna bring my own beer in soda cans, what will you do about it?
KB: Obviously there is nothing we can do about this and we are well aware of the fact that some people are going to smuggle things into the park. People smuggle food into movie theaters; it is a reality. But I believe that most of our patrons will choose to support a free event that they have been enjoying for the past 18 years.
OMC: So, I can still bring booze to River Rhythms on Wednesdays, right? Why?
KB: It is our understanding that this is a state statute which would apply to all events in the state of Wisconsin. Our representatives in the MPD have informed us that every event is being made aware of the law. What the other events choose to do with that information is up to them. Our board felt that the only responsible way to move forward, when presented with the facts, is to abide by the law.
OMC: Are you going to bust the people, homeless and otherwise, who carry in all alcohol to Cathedral Square Park all day, anyway?
KB: We aren't going to do any profiling with this policy. Every patron carrying alcohol onto the premise will be treated the same way.
OMC: Any other changes in store for 2009?
KB: I think that people will find that because of the new alcohol policy, a lot of positive changes will occur. There were challenges with the event that we were reviewing even before this particular issue was brought to our attention. Extreme amounts of garbage -- particularly glass and broken glass -- is unfortunately left in the park on a regular basis, which poses an obvious safety risk to our guests. Also, without the control over the consumption of alcohol, we weren't able to control any over-consumption or possible underage drinking at the event. And many people have commented recently that the event has gotten overcrowded. Not allowing patrons to bring their own alcohol will allow us to gain more control over all of these issues and that will result in a safer, better quality event that serves the community and the East Town neighborhood.
A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.
He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.
Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.
He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.
He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.