Street performers – not in my backyard

400-STREET-PERFORMER-HYPOLIDuring a special extended 10-minute presentation before the St Augustine City Commission tonight, sponsored by Vice-Mayor Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline, once again the five-member panel will listen to another Historic District merchant who doesn’t like buskers.

The City of St Augustine does not have a good track record in attempting to manage what is either considered a public nuisance or constitutionally protected creative expression; viewed as quaint, organic and entertaining by some locals and downtown visitors.

As with the street artists, street entertainers, known as “buskers”, came under fire years ago; from downtown merchants, primarily on St George Street, who have complained that they interfere with the operation of their businesses, scare off customers, or otherwise cost them money in some sort or fashion.

Based on his complaint, available to Historic City News prior to tonight’s meeting, we reviewed pages of material provided to the city by Ray Dominey; who since 2006, with his wife Jessie, has operated St Augustine Photographic Art, Inc., a/k/a “Get Your Photos On Canvas”.

Although Dominey, who operates his business on the first floor of Casa Del Hildago, is from South Florida, and was nowhere near downtown St Augustine during the time the first battles were launched between the St George Street merchants, city manager, and commission, against controversial and outspoken buskers, like Roger Jolley, or Merrill Roland, he is, nonetheless, finding out what we’ve known for years about street performers.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees later, after suffering embarrassing losses in federal court, every year or so, the commission seems to re-visit complaints from the next crop of businessmen who don’t want buskers in their backyard.

The last iteration of an ordinance to deal with street performances, 2012-05, under the advice of Constitutional Law attorneys hired by the City, prohibited street performers on Hypolita Street, where Dominey’s business is located — but only on a portion of the street from St George Street west to Cordova Street, leaving the remainder of Hypolita Street from St George Street east to Avenida Menendez available for the entertainers to express themselves.

City Attorney Ronald W. Brown has instructed the commissioners on several occasions that they cannot successfully ban lawful activities everywhere in the City — you can regulate the time, manner and approve locations, but, if you say buskers can’t perform in Historic District 1 and 2, for example, your ordinance is going to be struck down in court. 2012-05 accomplished that objective determining that the most populous half of the street was off limits while allowing the activity 50-feet away from St. George Street, eastward.

Establishments in the no-play zone, Scarlett O’Hara’s, Rhett’s Piano Bar, Columbia Restaurant, and shops in the building where Dominey’s business used to be located were mercifully spared the music of paint-bucket players, one-man bands, guitarist, singers, and bongo drums. But, guess what? 50-feet east of St George Street, on Hypolita Street, there is an entrance to the building where Dominey now rents his store, and he wants them moved — again.

If you plan to attend, the City Commission Meeting will be held on Monday, June 10, 2013, beginning at 5:00 p.m. in the Alcazar Room of the City Hall Building located at 75 King Street in St Augustine. You can watch the meeting live on Comcast Government Television channel 3.

Photo credits: © 2013 Historic City News – Public agenda City of St Augustine

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