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NAPLES — Naples residents can expect more music, more people and more fun in Bayfront in the coming weeks.
It took two votes and more than three hours of debate Wednesday for the controversial Rockin’ on the Bay concert series to gain approval from Naples City Council to continue with three more free concerts. But that is three fewer than concert organizers had initially planned for and the approval comes with stipulations, including a limit of 1,500 people who can attend each of the last three shows.
Wednesday marked the second time organizers of the event have appeared before council pleading their case to “keep rockin’” despite complaints.
“We have a unique ability to stand on the throat of fun sometimes in this city,” Vice Mayor Gary Price said, acknowledging the time and difficulty it took for council to ultimately approve the event, which many voiced support for.
More than 20 residents spoke during the meeting and many were in favor of the Saturday concerts that have drawn thousands of people each weekend since early January. But council struggled with the weekly frequency and impact on residents of Bayfront and the rest of the city.
“Residents are entitled to a quality of life themselves, not just playing host,” Councilwoman Dee Sulick said, mentioning the weekly strain on the city’s infrastructure and public safety staff.
The Bayfront condo association asked last week that the concerts be stopped. But council learned Wednesday the association sent their letter of objection despite a lack of majority support from residents.
Of the 156 units in Bayfront, owners from 36 responded to a survey by the association and 23 of those supported the concerts, an attorney for the association said.
Gary Histed, president of the Bayfront condo association, said the events are taking a toll on the common areas.
“The Bayfront complex was not designed or constructed for a weekly intrusion of thousands of people,” he said.
Ultimately, council voted 4-3 to allow three more concerts instead of the six organizers asked for. Council members Doug Finlay, Dee Sulick and Teresa Heitmann voted against the concerts.
Council originally voted down a motion to approve all six concerts without an attendance cap.
Two more concerts will take place, this weekend and next, under the organizers’ previous permit. The next three will be spaced apart. There will be no concert on March 16, the Saturday of the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, to avoid traffic problems downtown during the highly-attended event.
Council also stipulated that the final three concerts must somehow be limited to 1,500 attendees. Mayor John Sorey suggested attendees be required to print tickets from the event’s website to present upon admission. Other council members pointed out that capping attendance could prevent other Bayfront visitors not interested in the concerts from stopping by for dinner or drinks.
The conversation lasted more than three hours as council members grilled event organizers and city staff on everything from the polling of residents and the timely removal of portable toilets to the consumption of alcohol on site.
“We have a tendency to take simple requests and make them embarrassingly complex,” Price said.
Mike Randall of McQuaid Marketing, which is promoting the concert series, said he struggled to understand council’s qualms with the event but is happy to continue with three more concerts.
“It was a long day,” Randall said.
Event organizer Tiffany McQuaid said Saturday’s concert featuring a Billy Joel tribute drew a standing ovation from the crowd in support of continued events.
“It choked me up,” she said. “It made believe that this town needs this. It needs something.”