outside lands concert

Outside Lands Generates Millions for City, GG Park

By Erin Bank

This year’s three-day Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park, held Aug. 9-11, was one for the history books in many ways. According to Billboard Boxscore, 205,500 tickets were sold, generating a record $29.6 million. It was also the first time marijuana could be sold legally at a major sanctioned event. The SF Chronicle reported the sale of more than $1 million worth of cannabis products.

The challenge of hosting an event of this magnitude is one many city departments are willing to face in order to bring more than $66 million in tourism dollars to the city’s economy.

The SF Recreation and Park Department also receives revenue in the form of permit fees, to the tune of $3.6 million in 2019. This revenue means that Rec. and Park can afford an extra full-time, year-round gardener for Golden Gate Park, according to Tamara Barak Aparton, deputy director of communications and public affairs for Rec. and Park. 

The money also funds the maintenance of the Polo Field, which bears the brunt of the festival’s presence. In addition, the money paid for neighborhood job fairs (93 people were hired in 2018, according to Aparton), $115,000 for scholarships for recreation classes and added funds to the overall Rec. and Park budget. 

Outside Lands crowd

The photo above shows concert goers on the lawn at the Polo Field, the main site of the Outside Lands concert. More than 200,000 tickets were sold for this year’s event. The estimated inflow of tourism dollars to San Francisco was more than $66 million. The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department received $3.6 million in fees, helping to defray costs for park upkeep throughout the year. Photo by Michael Durand.

“I would say we’re coming out ahead, for sure,” Aparton said.

Another Planet Entertainment (APE), a Bay Area-based event promoter, manages the Outside Lands festival. 

“Our relationship is really a partnership with Rec. and Park, and it’s a relationship with the City,” APE Executive Vice President Allen Scott said. “There’s a constant conversation with the supervisors, with concerned neighbors.” 

That relationship is not ending any time soon. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on April 2 to extend the contract between the City and APE until 2031. In addition to the $3.6 million paid directly to Rec. and Park, APE also pays for the additional burden on police, traffic officers and Muni operators. 

Both Scott and Aparton emphasized that traffic and parking control measures have been put in place recently, especially with the added burden of rideshare traffic.  

“As far as blocked driveways and congestion and things like that, Another Planet now has dedicated tow trucks. They dealt with Uber and Lyft double parking and circling neighborhoods by having specific drop-off and pick-up points and there have been additional steps taken as far as increased traffic enforcement, increased police enforcement and dedicated loading and unloading areas (for equipment),” Aparton said.

In addition to traffic, complaints are primarily about sound, she said.

Rec. and Park has worked with APE to reduce sound output by about 80 percent in the past few years. For example, a spike in the number of noise complaints via the festival hotline and to city officials in 2018 (from the usual 30-40 per weekend to 150-200 in a single location) mobilized sound monitors directly to the site, which sent back data to the festival to allow real-time adjustments. 

At least one resident does not think this goes far enough. Andrew Solow brought concerns to the Board of Supervisors that there was not any provision in the recent contract between the City and APE to limit noise. 

“I don’t think anyone should have to suffer due to noise,” Solow said. 

He concedes that, although he fled the City to escape the noise this year, he has heard from friends that there was a significant improvement in the noise levels close to the park. 

The impact of the event on Golden Gate Park extends past the three-day period of the festival. The Polo Field begins to be closed off two weeks prior to the event and extends nearly a week afterward. While some residents have issues about the loss of their public space, the number of complaints regarding fencing is so low that Aparton did not have a number to report.

Scott explains that set-up and tear-down is “a layered approach to not impact the grass and the meadows and the trees. If we could do this in a week, we would save a lot of money.”

“We work closely with Rec. and Park on what our setup entails, how we set it up, what meadows are closed down when and where we leave openings in the fencing. It’s a schedule I think we’ve gotten down to meet everyone’s needs,” Scott said. 

Without the fencing, the disc golf course located on the edges of the festival venue could possibly be damaged. The San Francisco Disc Golf Club works directly with APE and Rec. and Park to determine where and when to put up fencing to protect the course, which was donated to the City by the club in 2007 and remains privately operated through club dues. Club President Jon Toby describes the relationship he has built with APE as “excellent, based on good communication and understanding.”

“When we are shutting things down, it’s about public safety,” Scott says. 

Safety in terms of keeping pedestrians out of the way of heavy machinery moving around the site and also safety in terms of being able to ensure everyone is screened by festival security procedures. 

“In Gilroy (the site of a recent mass shooting at the Garlic Festival), someone cut through a fence. We take security very seriously,” Scott said.

“Many of us live in San Francisco,” he said. “We’re neighbors too, we know there will be an impact on residents. We understand that people have routines and bikes and running that they’re used to doing and we know that it’s a disruption. We hope that people see it for the greater good and not just about their personal routines.”

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