Decibel Dispute

Big-time rock concerts may come to an end at Metro Park because of changes to the city of Jacksonville’s noise ordinance imposing decibel levels and fines, said Los Angeles-based concert promoter Danny Wimmer.

“The proposed changes would make it impossible for me to continuing to do business at Met Park,” Wimmer wrote in an email.

Wimmer, originally from Jacksonville, stages the popular Welcome to Rockville and The Big Ticket concerts. A proposal developed by Jacksonville City Council’s ad hoc Committee on Metropolitan and Urban Parks, headed by Councilwoman Denise Lee, threatens the future of those shows, Wimmer said.

The committee, which has been meeting for several months, formed in response to noise complaints from residents in the St. Nicholas and South Jacksonville neighborhoods directly across the St. Johns River from Metropolitan Park. They complained last December during The Big Ticket that they’d been subjected to loud rock music at all hours — music so loud it rattled the windows and homes — and profanity heard from the park’s four stages.

Ginny Myrick, a former city councilwoman and resident of the St. Nicholas neighborhood, said she believed the proposed ordinance would placate her neighbors. She said she had no problems with events at the riverfront venue such as The World of Nations or Easter Bunny Parade — “not rock concerts.”

“It is obvious to me that this is really about content control and concerns over cursing that have been mentioned on the public record,” Wimmer said.

Myrick disputed his allegations.

“There are some vulgarities, but they are minor compared to the amount of noise and the length of the concerts,” she said. “The last time I checked, this is still America.”

The issue has been percolating through the City Council for almost a year after Councilman Don Redman tried to get ticketed concerts banned from the park, which sits on a sliver of land between EverBank Field and the St. Johns River.

Jacksonville attorney and concert promoter Mike Yokan, who’s worked with Wimmer on The Big Ticket and Welcome to Rockville, said there are problems with the bill. He told councilmembers he was especially concerned with the city’s right “to pull the plug” if a concert remains at about the city’s maximum 105 decibel levels.

The Council’s Public Health & Safety Committee met Nov. 7 to discuss concerns expressed about the ordinance from Yokan and others. Another committee meeting was set for Nov. 12 to consider amendments; the issue is scheduled to go to the full City Council on Nov. 26.

“We talked about some workarounds,” Yokan said, “but no agreements were reached.”

As currently written, Ordinance 2013-676 limits the hours of concerts, sets times when sound checks can happen, regulates additional stage placement, establishes a $10,000 refundable noise pollution compliance fee, and sets penalties for noise ordinance violations.

Despite some reservations, Myrick said, 
”I endorse the bill.”

When she was told that some promoters still have concerns about the ordinance, she was unsympathetic.

“What a bunch of weenies,” Myrick said. “They are foolish not to support it and give
it a shot.”

“The bill is extremely problematic for promoters in a number of respects. The bill seeks to apply the regular noise ordinance standard to all events at Met Park,” Yokan said.

City Councilwoman Lori Boyer and Myrick said they don’t understand the concerns of the promoters who often participated in the meetings. She said the alternative to the bill is to leave things as they are, with much stricter decibel rules. Under the current noise ordinance, the maximum is 60 decibels during the day and 55 at night.

“The suggested [decibel] levels are simply too low to produce a quality event, and the fines and threat of pulling the plug makes the business risks intolerable,” Wimmer said.

Wimmer said the standard of national touring groups is 110 decibels.

Yokan said the restrictions on decibel levels at the concerts are unrealistic.

“National acts carry their own engineers and would not agree to abide by these conditions,” Yokan wrote in an August memo to the committee, noting Starry Nights concerts with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra averaged 95 to 100 decibels. He suggested a 15-decibel cushion before fines are imposed.

The Big Ticket concert, which caused all the complaints, was not monitored, so no one knows what the decibel level was.

“It would be like turning down the bass and treble levels on your home stereo, so the fans would hear a muffled, horrid-sounding show,” Yokan said.

Several large rock concerts are scheduled for the park, including The Big Ticket on Dec. 8, Oyster Jam Music Festival on April 13-14, 2014, and Welcome to Rockville April 27-28. Florida Country Superfest is planned for June 14-15 at EverBank Field.

City Councilman John Crescimbeni said he doubted the new rules would hurt concerts.

“Quite frankly, I don’t believe those people,” he said.

Myrick said concert promoters should have made their objections during the months of hearings on the proposal.

Wimmer and Yokan said promoters at Metropolitan Park are being unfairly targeted and that EverBank Field should also be covered under the new rules.

“It is interesting that the proposed ordinance was drafted to just include Met Park and ignores the fact that equally, if not louder, events are done in the stadium just 600 feet from the park,” Wimmer said.

The mayor’s office, Tourist Development Council and the City Council all courted the promoter of Florida Country Superfest to come to Jacksonville to stage a huge two-day festival at the stadium, Yokan said.

Yokan doubts the city will impose fines if the country music show violates the noise ordinance.

Boyer said no one from that festival had contacted the city about a change in the decibel rates to be allowed at the stadium.

Yokan said the city needs to develop realistic noise standards.

“What we need is a reasonable noise standard for music festivals,” Yokan said, “and the city needs to embrace a wide diversity of musical entertainment.”