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NPU-E Against Extended 10th Street Closure For Peachtree Road Race

What is most appropriate when closing the Midtown neighborhood's main street artery when it comes to permitting festivals?

The 35th annual Atlanta Jazz Festival at begins in less than two weeks, and unlike last year, Midtown residents will not be subjected to an extended closure of 10th Street - or any street closure for that matter.

The same cannot be said of a pair of Midtown events coming in June and July when racing action will lead to the shutting down of 10th St. that many Midtown neighborhood residents consider the "main artery" through the community.

Events with at least 250 people require a special event permit, which is issued from Mayor Kasim Reed’s office. Last year, Neighborhood Planning Unit-E voted not to recommend the approval of the Atlanta Jazz Festival’s permit because the board opposed the closing of 10th Street for the festival.

NPU-E reviews festival permits, but can only make recommendations on whether they’re approved or denied. The city doesn’t require that organizers consult neighborhoods directly impacted by the events and the NPU-E board’s showing of opposition last year did nothing to prevent the street closing or the Jazz Festival from happening.

Clearly local residents weren’t too jazzed about the street closing for the music festival, which in 2011 resulted in the city of Atlanta closing 10th St. from Charles Allen to Monroe drives on Memorial Day weekend from 7 p.m. on Friday to 9 a.m. on Monday. 

It marked the first time that the Jazz Festival required the need to close the street. Residents responded with complaints that the street closing would cause traffic disruptions. They contended that traffic would back up on Piedmont Avenue and Monroe Dr., and that cars would be forced to detour through the narrow residential streets of the Midtown neighborhood.

And Atlanta Jazz Festival organizers clearly listened. This year’s Jazz Festival, which will take place May 26-28, will require no closure of 10th St. and the NPU-E board, as well as the Midtown Neighbors’ Association board, had no issue recommending approval of the Jazz Fest’s permit.

The same cannot be said of the 43rd Annual Peachtree Road Race. The July 4th 10K will again traverse along Peachtree Street from Buckhead to Midtown before finishing on 10th St. with runners then spilling into the park.

Last year, July 4th fell on a Monday and NPU-E approved the closure of a portion of 10th St. in the days leading up to the race since they fell on a holiday weekend when traffic would be light in the area. But the board said last year they wanted race organizers to limit the road closure in 2012 since July 4th falls on a Wednesday this summer.

But at this month’s NPU-E meeting, the Peachtree Road Race applicant again asked for a portion of 10th St. to be closed for the majority of Monday and Tuesday, July 2-3, in order to build finish lines, support services and more along the street.

“It would make a huge difference to our neighborhood if they didn’t close 10th until after the Monday afternoon rush hour,’’ said Geoff Rogers, vice president of the Midtown Neighbors' Association, at the meeting. “Really nothing goes on during that first day of set-up. We communicated this last year and we were really hoping the applicant would be able to reduce the impact on our neighborhood.”

The recommendation to oppose the permit was ultimately approved by the board.

“We’re very supportive of the event and it’s an outstanding event,’’ Rogers said. “This is what this process is all about. We’ll pass this along to the special events people downtown and ask that they put some pressure on the applicant to restructure a little bit.”

While the Peachtree Road Race organizers didn’t appear to take much stock in the board’s suggestion from a year ago, organizers of next month’s Red Bull Soapbox Race apparently did.

On June 9, Midtown will host the 12th U.S. Red Bull Soapbox Race, returning to the same 10th St. race course organizers used in 2009. This marks the first time Red Bull has returned to a soapbox race location. Clearly they were pleased by the turnout and success of the event three years ago. But some Midtown neighbors, especially those on the south side of 10th St., were not so happy with the 2009 event.

Partly because there was access to 10th St. via Taft Avenue three years ago, some derby spectators set up viewing spots in the yards of out-of-town 10th St. residents. The uninvited guests left trash behind and caused mild property damage.

But Red Bull organizers have assured the NPU board and residents that this time it will protect 10th St. private property from spectators. Red Bull representatives have also promised to go on a door-to-door outreach to Midtown neighbors in the time leading up to the event, while NPU-E board members have remarked that event organizers have demonstrated that they listened to the concerns of the neighborhood.

That doesn’t mean 10th Street won’t be closed, though. Expect the portion from Monroe to Myrtle St. to be closed after the morning rush hour on Friday, June 8. While the permit indicates the closure could last as long as 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 10, Red Bull officials say they are targeting a 6 a.m. opening that Sunday.

And what's to be expected from the Red Bull event? Forty-one teams hailing from Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia speeding down the 10th St. drag strip racing for soapbox glory.

At least 10th St. will be open to some traffic that day.

- Amy Wenk contributed to this story

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