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PAY TO PLAY? Jamestown City Council considers regulations of street performers


A proposed busking ordinance, meant to regulate street performers, is looked at by city leaders as an effort to promote the activity, but musicians in the community don’t necessarily see it that way.

Jamestown Mayor Katie Andersen said the ordinance would provide an avenue for buskers to perform and allow the city to control the behavior and have a way to check who is performing in town.

The Jamestown City Council authorized the city attorney to draw up a busking ordinance at its September meeting. The Jamestown ordinance could be patterned after a Fargo ordinance that requires a $50 permit for any street performer.

“I kind of like the way things are,” said Steve Kuykendall, local musician. “... if you have to go get a permit, it would at least be an inconvenience.”

Derrick LaPoint, Fargo city planner, said the ordinance in Fargo started when the city wanted to have some guidelines for a growing number of street performers.

Fargo licensed 21 buskers for its downtown area this summer.

“We’ve had few complaints,” LaPoint said. “Most (performances) are later in the evening after business hours. Any complaints we get are usually about amplified sound.”

LaPoint said the Fargo planning department issues permits and does notify the Fargo Police Department for what was described as a “limited background check.” The background checks are done after the permits are issued by Fargo police.

“We make sure everybody knows the guidelines,” he said. “Most people are doing this as a good time.”

Andersen said the fee structure for the Jamestown ordinance, if it is passed, could be debated later and set at a nominal level. Other parts of the ordinance would prohibit the musicians from harassing spectators who don’t tip and require the musicians to keep the sidewalks clear for pedestrians.

The proposed Jamestown ordinance could also include regulations about where in the city busking could occur or limit it to commercial rather than residential areas.

Some musicians see the permit process as an intrusion on what they could do for the community.

“There are a lot of musicians that would provide free music,” said Kerry Wicks, another Jamestown musician. “I can’t imagine you would ever make enough to cover a $50 fee.”

Larry Kopp, executive director of the Jamestown Arts Center, said he hoped musicians would find the recently dedicated Hansen Arts Park an inviting atmosphere for performances.

“In most cities people do it all the time and it’s not regulated or permitted,” he said. “Anything that gets people out making music or art is good for the community.”

Wicks said the Arts Park is likely the first downtown location that could attract street musicians.

“Groups have played at the Frontier Village with a freewill offering,” he said. “The Arts Park would be a great location. I think musicians there would do quite a lot for the businesses there.”

Andersen said in the absence of a specific ordinance, buskers would not be in violation of city ordinances if they didn’t block city sidewalks or rights of ways and did not violate the city’s noise ordinance.

Details of the ordinance could be discussed at the Oct. 24 meeting of the Jamestown Legal and Finance Committee with a first reading of a proposed ordinance at the Nov. 6 City Council meeting.