Bill Manno

The Austin Center for Events (ACE), Austin Police Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission will be teaming up this year to add extra safety precautions to the festival because of the growing number of South By Southwest attendees. As one of the new precautions, the ACE has reduced the number of temporary event permits.
Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

Tens of thousands of people will flood the streets of Austin next week for South By Southwest. As more people make Austin their spring break destination, the City is taking new safety precautions.

The Austin Center for Events (ACE) — the office that issues temporary event permits — the Austin Police Department and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission are collaborating to make SXSW a safer festival. 

Bill Manno, ACE corporate special events program manager, said ACE reduced the number of issued permits for public events from 168 to 147 between 2014–2015. Manno said ACE plans to reduce the number of permits to 125 for future SXSW conventions.  

“After last year’s South By, we had some public meetings and online surveys,” Manno said. “There was a lot of discussion about how it’s just
too overprogrammed.”

Event coordinators must acquire certain types of permits before using spaces in the city not typically used for public events, such as parking lots. This year, Manno said ACE paid more attention to the cumulative impact of events already taking place in a requested area.  

“There have been some [events] that have been denied just because they want to do it on the same date and same location as many others,”
Manno said. 

Event coordinators who do acquire permission to host temporary outdoor music events will face earlier cutoff times. 

In the past, these events could continue until 2 a.m. To abate neighboorhood complaints, temporary outdoor music events will end earlier than others to prevent overcrowded streets. Temporary outdoor music events end at 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 p.m. Thursday and 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday. 

ACE worked with Austin Energy this year to improve the safety of the events downtown by adding brighter LED bulbs to streetlights on
Sixth Street. 

“We’re hoping we can illuminate some of the traditionally dark areas,” Manno said. “Sixth Street has some really nice shade trees, but they also block out light and cause some dark spots, which sometimes the criminal element will take advantage of.”

The APD will have 10–12 percent more officers at SXSW, said Tim Pruett, commander over special events for APD.

“[Attendees will] definitely see additional officers downtown,” Pruett said. “The more public safety people you see downtown, the safer
you feel.”

TABC — the state agency that issues and enforces alcoholic beverage permits — will also bring in extra staff this year, TABC Capt. Harry Nanos said. Nanos said some of the extra staff will be undercover, looking for violations such as underage drinking, venues selling to minors
and overconsumption. 

Nanos said changes are partly in response to last year’s drunken driving incident on Red River Street, which resulted in four deaths and injuries to more than 20 others.

“Whenever you have an incident like last year, it makes you look at what you can do to make things safer,” Nanos said. “What is it that we can do to ensure that the safety of the public is met?”

SXSW publicist Elizabeth Derczo said in an email that the City’s changes this year will allow festival-goers to have a more enjoyable experience.

“Safety is, and always has been, a top priority for SXSW,” Derczo said. “We do everything we can to support their efforts.”

This year’s efforts are just the beginning, Manno said. As SXSW becomes an increasingly popular destination, the City will be forced to adapt.

“It’s not just a one-time fix,” Manno said. “It’s a continual fix. We have to continue to look at how to make the event more fun, safer and
more inviting.”