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Wilmington staff cancel free downtown concert series, citing ‘undue burden’ on Cape Fear Club

Downtown Business Alliance

Downtown Business Alliance’s 15-week concert series was approved by Wilmington City Council last month. But this week city staff cancelled the event, citing potential conflicts. DBA was caught off-guard but said it's working to find potential new locations.

Editor's note: While the city used the name "Cape Fear Men's Club," it was referring to the men's only Cape Fear Club founded in the mid-19th century and located on Chesnut Street, not the Cape Fear Men's Clubfounded in 2005.

At its April 19 meeting, city council approved on-street alcohol sales on the 200 block of Chestnut Street, clearing the way for DBA’s planned “Downtown Alive” concert series, slated for each Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The series was touted as the successor to the “Downtown Sundown” series, hosted by WDI, Inc., and garnered public support from Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo.

But this week, Community Services Director Amy Beatty contacted DBA Chair Terry Espy and the event managers Chris Andrews and Conan Anderson (Son of Ander, LLC), to notify them that staff had pulled the plug on the event at its planned location.

“The City has discretion, per policy adopted by the Wilmington City Council on January 22, 2019, to disallow any event if it will create an undue burden on a particular geographic area or the City as a whole. Staff has determined that hosting a concert series in the location requested, and in adjacent surrounding areas will create an undue burden and thus will not allow the activity,” Beatty wrote.

Specifically, Beatty stated that “the noise created by a concert would reasonably cause negative conflicts with events taking place in the Cape Fear Men’s Club (CFC) and potentially Thalian Hall.”

While Espy did not comment on it, it is unusual that she would be unaware of a complaint from Thalian Hall, since she sits on the Board of Trustees.

A city spokesperson did confirm, “staff had discussions with both those organizations when evaluating the feasibility of hosting the concert series in those areas.” The spokesperson clarified that after the April 19 vote, CFC contacted the city to say it hadn't been properly notified (which city policy requires the applicant to do). CFC then voiced several concerns, including noise and access to their building.

Espy, who received Beatty’s letter on May 12, said DBA was surprised at the turn of events but was continuing to work with the city to find an acceptable location. The city has suggested moving the event to the Brooklyn Arts District or Castle Street.

According to city emails, staff had previously looked at moving the event over to the 200 block of Princess Street, but six businesses on the street said that would negatively impact their foot traffic — something Espy said she agreed with. Espy said that DBA’s goal was to bring people downtown, but not close a street with active businesses, thus the choice of Chestnut Street between 2nd and 3rd streets.

In one of those emails, Beatty wrote, “I think a key takeaway here may be that this type of event has exceeded its usefulness. The original goal was to draw people downtown to increase business. People are now already downtown and the feedback we are getting from businesses is that this type of event decreases foot traffic into their shops.”

That was on May 6, the same day Beatty requested that the approval tracking process for the concert series — which was due to take effect May 17 — be cancelled.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.