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Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners Debate Changing Street Performance Permits For Buskers

Courtesy of Cameron Cunningham
Cameron Cunningham, 21, performs in July at the first Fort Lauderdale Busker Fair.

Fort Lauderdale city commissioners hope to attract more street performers and artists — “buskers” — to the city. 

However, instead of voting on changes to its ordinance at the last city commission meeting of the decade Tuesday night,  commissioners asked for reworked changes and deferred the matter until the new year for more discussion.

Currently, street performers are assigned sections of the city, and have to renew monthly permits that cost them $25 a year to maintain. 

"The buskers that do want to come here, there are no available spots because they've been bought up by people that aren't using them," said Sarah Hannah-Spurlock, the city's nighttime economy manager. 

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis expressed concern that businesses or people that do not want street performers are trying to sabotage the city's busking program by buying up the permits. 

"Do you think that's been done deliberately in order to prevent buskers from materializing on the streets?" Trantalis asked Hannah-Spurlock. 

She replied, "in some cases, absolutely."

City officials have officially wanted to bring more busking into Fort Lauderdale's downtown area since a goal-setting meeting earlier this year, according to city documents. The nighttime economy program started busking fairs over the summer, to try and attract more talent to the Riverwalk area. 

"It's a way of activating the downtown area, creating some more excitement in the downtown," Hannah-Spurlock told WLRN during an interview in August. 

Read more: Read More: Buskers Wanted: Fort Lauderdale Ramps Up Opportunities For Street Performers

Trantalis said he wants buskers to help create more activity and an entertaining atmosphere in Fort Lauderdale, and that the planned Tunnel Top Plaza may be a good spot in the future.

"I actually see that as a vortex of buskers who would see that as a place to perform," he said.

Tuesday night's debate was over whether or not to open up the busking program and remove required permits. One city Fort Lauderdale has looked to for busking inspiration is Asheville, North Carolina, which does not require permits for buskers, according to Hannah-Spurlock. 

A little closer to home, in Key West busking is popular and performers there have stricter rules. They are required to pay $150 a year for permits, and also need to have $300,000 worth of public liability and property damage insurance, according to the city's municipal code of ordiances. 

April Kirk, executive director of the Historic Stranahan House Museum by the Riverwalk, told commissioners Tuesday night that she opposes eliminating permits for busking in Fort Lauderdale. 

"By eliminating permitting and oversight of the buskers program, you're now telling a panhandler that they can just replace their cardboard sign with a ukulele," Kirk said. 

Kirk is also an artist looking to sell her artwork:

"On a personal note … I actually filled out my own artist permit. … Personally, I will not move forward with this program if it goes in place like this because I don't think it's fair to anyone, the residents or the tourists. I really do think this needs to be reviewed."

Eugenia Duncan Ellis, the president and CEO of the Riverwalk Trust, said all sorts of actors, painters and other performers came to the summer Busker Fairs. 

"Buskers are not just a guitarist," she said. "Maybe a permit isn't necessary but at least the name and address so that you can contact them."

City commissioners will instead look at reducing the number of permits a busker can have each year (instead of eliminating them), and limit how many times the permits can be renewed. That is discussion is scheduled for a meeting on Jan. 7.

"I think this would warrant much more kind of, discussion … with stakeholders," Commissioner Ben Sorensen said. "I think we just gotta open up the permits so that there's more equal access to the permits."

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.
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