GILLETTE, Wyo. — The Gillette City Council has approved an application to close a public roadway for a private event, setting a precedent that could change how a downtown street is used moving forward.
During their regular meeting on June 14, the council approved a request submitted by resident Krista Brown to close 3rd Street between S. Gillette Avenue and S. Kendrick Avenue, or 3rd Street Plaza, so yard games could be set up in the street as a part of a private party at a nearby business.
The request had been brought up in another city council meeting earlier this month but had been pushed off to Tuesday’s meeting when a motion to postpone the decision was approved to give the council time to hear from Gillette Main Street on how the closure could impact downtown businesses.
That impact, however, would be minimal, according to Gillette Main Street Executive Director Jessica Seders and Rapscallions Barbershop Trevers Chapman, who told the council that getting people downtown for a private party, though it would mean closing a roadway, could still drive traffic towards businesses in the downtown area.
The city and Gillette Main Street have poured significant amounts of money into the 3rd Street Plaza, Seders said, with Chapman pointing out that the original idea behind the plaza was to have a street permanently closed to vehicular traffic for public outdoor events.
“It was always trying to, like Jessica and what their group is doing so great, is trying to get people downtown and revitalize our space, but unfortunately we don’t have enough of a downtown, but we’re trying,” Chapman said.
In response to concerns about a closed roadway inhibiting access to businesses and possibly driving away customers, Seders and Chapman told the council that downtown is essentially dead during the times requested by the application and that there are no surrounding businesses that are even open.
Additional concerns about the city’s liability when renting out public spaces for private events were raised by City Attorney Sean Brown, who said that the application being reviewed did not outline a requirement for the applicant to purchase insurance protecting the city from being held liable in the event of damage or injury.
“For me as a lawyer, this has nothing to do with the nature of the event, it’s just that we are giving out our public space without insurance that would protect us if something were to go wrong,” Attorney Brown said, adding that when property owners lease out their space, there is something in the lease agreement that protects the property owner from being held liable.
Attorney Brown said that he would like to see the city insured by applicants in the event of damage or injury that could occur during private events.
Insurance, however, wouldn’t pose much of an issue either, Chapman said, adding that his business and others had to purchase a million-dollar policy for a recent festival that cost them $150. Seders added that Gillette Main Street currently carries event insurance that costs them around $100.
City Administrator Hyun Kim clarified that there is an updated application that does have the insurance requirement with a $500,000 minimum and that city staff viewed the request as very reasonable.
He said that the tension comes from a policy standpoint; the city as a public agency cannot get involved when it comes to the content of events, and that the council would not have a say in what events could be held there.
But where Krista’s event is concerned, Kim said that city staff has no issues with the street closure.
Council President Shay Lundvall encouraged the council to look at how the application fits into the big picture of having a robust downtown with a space designed for similar events, instead of viewing it as a one-off.
“I think it’s something we just need to consider looking at as making a priority in some facet or another in our planning,” Lundvall said, though he still raised concerns about the length of time that the street would be closed.
Krista said that she put the time down to line up with how long she has rented out her venue downtown, but told the council that she would be open to shortening the length of time for the closure and adjusting the area to still allow alley access for downtown business and traffic.
City Councilwoman Tricia Simonson expressed relief that Krista was willing to adjust her times, though she also said that the council would need to have future discussions to iron out the details of allowing 3rd Street Plaza to be used by members of the public.
The council voted four to three to approve an amended motion requiring Krista to obtain event insurance and limiting the closure on 3rd Street from 5- 10 p.m. on June 18, as opposed to the original request of 2- 11 p.m.