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- 2013 - December - 9th -
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James F. Bailey Jr.

Noise isn’t the biggest problem at Metro Park

From the publisher: James F. Bailey Jr.

If you talk to people who know him, they will tell you that City Councilman Don Redman is a likable guy.

Many will say he seems well-intentioned, but Redman often looks like he is acting in his own, sometimes self-absorbed world.

Of course, Redman will proudly tell you he chooses to march to a different drummer.

Like when the three-decade member of First Baptist Church in Downtown was staunch in his opposition to legislation that would have expanded anti-discrimination policies to cover gays and lesbians.

Or when Redman decided the best way to cure the chronic problems of Hemming Plaza is to remove all of the benches where people sit.

Or, in a bizarre move, when he was unable to get Occupy Jacksonville protestors tossed out of Hemming Plaza, Redman set up his own table and chairs to try and counter their efforts.

Now Redman is in the thick of the long battle over new rules and regulations for Metro Park.

Redman wants to regulate noise made by bands that perform during ticketed concerts in the park. Actually, he would really prefer that all rock concerts just go away.

The council has been debating this issue for a couple of years. The legislation before the council will limit the number of ticketed events at Metro Park to 12 a year and places serious restrictions on noise levels.

At its last meeting, the council voted 13-6 for emergency legislation that provided waivers to the noise ordinance to allow promoters to stage two events in the park, including last night's Big Ticket.

Redman voted against the waivers.

He has lined up squarely with some residents of St. Nicholas across the river from the park who say rock concerts there are too loud.

They also say, even more important is that the language coming from the stage is both distasteful and disturbing.

Last week at the Public Health and Safety Committee meeting chaired by council member Kimberly Daniels, the bill was amended so that noise levels cannot exceed 105 decibels. Promoters who break the sound barrier can be suspended for three years after a sixth violation.

In addition, the proposed legislation calls for events to end at 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. on most Sundays.

Some committee members asked why Metro Park is being singled out, while other venues are left out, like EverBank Field across the street or the Shipyards property just to the west.

Councilman Stephen Joost has been very vocal that Metro Park should not be targeted. He has suggested the park be included in Downtown's entertainment district.

"We're taking an asset of the city and singling it out," Joost said.

Despite what promoters contend, and what folks with common sense say, Redman does not believe unreasonable restrictions on sound levels by bands performing in Metro Park will drive away festival-goers and eliminate an important venue for entertainment in Jacksonville.

Promoters and fans will come anyway, Redman says.

Really?

I've met several times with concert promoters who want to stage events in Metro Park.

They have shown a willingness to work with the city and with St. Nicholas residents to find a solution.

For instance, when promoters staged Welcome to Rockville in the park last April, they incorporated special techniques and placed stages in a way to create less noise for neighborhoods.

They did the same for the Big Ticket on Sunday night.

During the concert, the weather was cool, foggy and humid with the wind coming out of the northeast.

I drove to Palmer Avenue where I talked with a man walking his dog. He said the concert last night was fairly normal for noise and said it was only disruptive on one occasion.

I spent another 20 minutes at the end of Holmesdale Road and talked with several neighbors gathered on the waterfront. We had no trouble hearing each other. The music was never louder than the cars on the nearby Hart Bridge.

I think these concerts are good for Jacksonville and Metro Park is a good backdrop for them.

Since Metro Park opened in 1985 as home to the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, thousands upon thousands of people have come to listen to music and enjoy the unique riverfront environment.

Sometimes the music has been provided by the Jacksonville Symphony, other times it has come from groups like the Beach Boys and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Many people are upset by the notion that music may be blaring in their peaceful houses on a Sunday evening as they wind down from the weekend and prepare the kids for school the next day.

I get that.

I grew up and lived in the area for almost 50 years. I assisted Mayor John Delaney's efforts in the mid-'90s with sound tests off the docks in my neighborhood when he was considering replacing Metro Park with an amphitheater that would have hosted 50 events a year.

On that particular day, with wind conditions, wave action and cloud coverage, the noise was the same level as normal street traffic on nearby Atlantic Boulevard.

In fact, a hooting owl watching us in a nearby tree pegged the needles of the highly technical equipment sending the monitor into a frenzy.

Delaney eventually gave up on the idea, partly because of pressure from the residents.

I now live two doors from a well-known wings and beer restaurant that uses an owl as its logo. They have several outdoor events during the year with loud music from bands and loud cheers during bathing suit contests.

Somehow, my wife, the kids and I have managed to survive the 3 percent of the year that we may have a disruptive evening.

If we are going to be a progressive city, we are going to have to be in a place where our leaders are strategically building on our assets.

That leadership doesn't always come from elected officials. On this issue, promoter Danny Wimmer has been a leader — even more so than Redman and other council members.

Danny has been willing to work with the city, the musical acts and the neighbors.

He has offered to assist us with studying other venues on how we may maximize their potential and help us challenge our neighbors to the south who are eating our lunch when it comes to concerts.

If we wanted to consider building an amphitheater at the Equestrian Center, I think it would be helpful to have someone knowledgeable in events and someone with contacts with big acts to help us make it happen.

That person is Danny.

I want to thank him for thinking of his city by bringing this incredible opportunity to his hometown.

I also want to thank him for spending his own money to bring acts to town, for marketing Jacksonville, for using that revenue to pay SMG thousands of dollars for the use of the parking lots, for paying hundreds of local people to work during his event, for filling hotels who employ waiters, housekeepers, chefs and front desk personnel and for exposing many people to our incredible Downtown.

Metro Park was not designed as an amphitheater, the Gator Bowl was not designed as an NFL stadium and the Prime Osborn building was not designed as a convention center.

It is time to look at Metro Park as the asset it can be and do what is necessary to make it work. Or, make it a festival park and find something to replace the revenue we are forgoing.

jbailey@baileypub.com

(904) 356-2466

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