Heated debate broke out at a meeting Wednesday between city officials and State Street merchants.
The city announced at the meeting it would drop from four to three the number of complimentary tickets State Street stores that close at or before 6 p.m. would get for this year's Freakfest on Saturday, October 29, which effectively closes down the street to pedestrians and shoppers beginning at 7 p.m.
Kelli Lamberty, State Street and Mall Concourse event coordinator, said the cutback was to save the city costs in running the event. But Lamberty added that the city would mail out tickets early this year to allow time for requests for additional tickets to be honored.
Madison Sole owner Jennette Riechers protested the change, saying store owners in the area were already sacrificing normal business throughout the event.
Riechers said businesses use the tickets to gain entrance to State Street to access their stores during the event.
She stated event attendees often set off burglary alarms or cause damage to stores that require employees to come out during the event. Because between 40,000 and 55,000 people attend the event each year, Riechers said it would be a safety hazard to send employees alone, which is why businesses need at least two tickets each time they send employees out.
"This just seems like such a petty thing to do to cut off tickets that we might need to access our stores," explained Riechers. "You're gating off my street where I pay rent, where I pay taxes and where I employ people. It's such a small thing to make every business on State Street and the affected area have to go through a two-step process for."
Mayoral aide Astra Iheukumere said the city found that some of the complimentary tickets issued in the past were not always used.
Business owners attending the meeting asked that their concerns be relayed to Mayor Paul Soglin, but Iheukumere said the mayor was already briefed on what changes were being made.
"I realize this is inconvenient, but it's also the cost of one night. Let's remember that the reason we are managing this event is because of the unconscionable damage that has happened to downtown businesses in the past when the city has not managed the event," Iheukumere said. "This is one ticket we're talking about, and we are living in tough economic times, so any way we can help protect that by conserving is [important]."
Ticket prices for the general public have gone up this year to help offset the nearly $200,000 the city spends on the event each year, noted Charlie Goldstone of Frank Productions, the event's sponsor.
Tickets will cost $8, a $1 increase over last year, and can be purchased online and at multiple locations along State Street. Tickets will be available on the day of the event for $12.
The bands All Time Low and Neon Trees will headline the event, said Goldstone, and will be joined by The Ready Set, MURS, Locksley, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, The Big Strong Men, and Quiet Corral.
Madison Police Department Central District Executive Captain Carl Grady said event attendees and business owners could expect to see similar security measures to last year's event.