Where will Winter Park’s downtown street performers go?
Winter Park City Commissioners approved an ordinance on first reading on Nov. 23 that would regulate street performers to specific performance area, but not without a raising a series of new questions.
The new ordinance would establish multiple zones where street performers can express themselves, while banning them from the sidewalks of Park Avenue, New England Avenue, the Winter Park Farmers Market and the SunRail station.
Designated performance zones under the new law would include Central Park and a corner lot outside the Farmers Market. If Central Park is closed off due to an event, a small park at the corner of Park and Whipple avenues and the lawn outside City Hall would be made available, said Fire Chief and Director of Code Compliance Jim White.
“Right now the individuals that you see on Park Avenue, who are either playing an instrument or illegally soliciting without a permit, are really unregulated,” White said. “They don’t get a permit to perform, they come down to the avenue and they set up shop.”
Many restaurants and business owners along Park Avenue have complained about street performers interfering with customers for years. A full band that performed along the Avenue earlier this year using a car battery to amplify their guitars and microphones might have been the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” White said.
The Park Avenue Merchants Association began working with Code Compliance shortly after to create the proposed ordinance, which has already been approved by the Merchant Association Board and the city’s Parks and Recreation Board.
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper noted that the regulations should be stricter, regulating performers to certain areas of the parks. Some material expressed by street performers, she said, may not be appropriate for children playing nearby.
“I’m not so sure that it’s not a good idea to have [specific] locations within the park if it’s legally defensible,” Cooper said.
“A lot of the videos that I have viewed [of street performers] feel more like Bourbon Street than they do like Park Avenue. We’ve got to put our families first.”
Commissioner Tom McMacken expressed his own concerns of how far-reaching the ordinance would be.
“Dealing with this issue sometimes you have to play the devil’s advocate,” McMacken said. “When we have the kids from St. Margaret Mary that come down and sing Christmas carols, are we going to usher them off the sidewalk and say, ‘You can sing in Central Park, but you can’t sing on this side?’”
White told the Observer that the intent of the ordinance was not to prohibit carolers or residents from singing as they walk down Park Avenue, but to “offer those who wish to perform a safe place to do so without causing any public safety issues.”
The new ordinance covers far more than just singers and musicians, but all forms of expression, including acting, juggling, dancing and any visual artistry.
Larry Walker Jr., who creates balloon animals for children in Central Park, said he’s grateful that performers have at least been given a place to go.
“I’m very pleased that [the City Commission] seems to be welcome to it…. They are willing to have us if we stay in certain locations,” Walker said. “Street performers are nothing if not flexible, and we will work with whatever sort of regulation and locations are given to us.”
Portrait artist Egberto Almenas, who also sets up within Central Park, spoke of how the presence of street performers makes the community more vibrant.
“It’s amazing how many people come to me and appreciate the work I do,” Almenas said. “Many people find this enriching. I’ve gotten nothing but positive comments about the vibrancy and how it compliments the businesses and enriches the color of the park.”
The specific performance areas may still be tweaked before the ordinance becomes law. Commissioner Tom McMacken said the lawn in front of City Hall should be a primary location for performers and that a park space near New England Avenue should be made available as well.
The ordinance will go before the City Commission for final approval at a second reading on Dec. 14.