Citing rising security costs, Riverbend Festival organizer says it will charge more for passes next year

Citing rising security costs, Riverbend Festival organizer says it will charge more for passes next year

June 2nd, 2013 by Barry Courter in Local Regional News

People gather along Riverside Drive near the Coca-Cola stage at the Riverbend Festival last year.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

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BY THE NUMBERS

* 21 -- Cases of underage drinking in 2012 at Riverbend.

* 32 -- Arrests in 2012 at Riverbend.

* 75 -- Ejections in 2012 at Riverbend.

* 100 -- Estimated number of Chattanooga police who worked Riverbend each day in 2012.

* 30 -- Estimated number of Hamilton County Sheriff's Department officers at Riverbend each day in 2012.

* $200,000 -- Amount Chattanooga police paid its officers during last year's Riverbend.

About the Festival

Riverbend pins, good for all nine nights of the festival, are on sale at area Kangaroo stores. They cost $32 until Friday at 5 p.m., then go to $45. Single-night admission is $26.

Headlining the various nights of the festival are:

* Friday -- Jake Owen

* Saturday -- Cee Lo Green

* Sunday, June 9 -- Brandy

* Monday, June 10 -- Pimps of Joytime (Bessie Smith Strut)

* Tuesday, June 11 -- Newsboys

* Wednesday, June 12 -- Dierks Bentley

* Thursday, June 13 -- Lynyrd Skynyrd

* Friday, June 14 -- Gavin DeGraw

* Saturday, June 15 -- O.A.R.

What else is new

• There are now designated areas for tobacco users.

• The Children's Village is back; TVA and EPB have partnered to create an interactive area near the Olgiati Bridge.

• Family & Faith Night will also be Military and First Responder Night; anyone with proper identification will be allowed in free.

Visitors to this year's Riverbend Festival, which cranks up Friday, may notice a few changes to the way security is handled.

But they'll definitely notice a change next year, when the price of the new security program is reflected in the cost of the Riverbend pin, says Executive Director Chip Baker.

"I can't tell you how much, but there will be an increase," he said.

For the first time in several years, Riverbend is picking up the entire tab for security at the event. In the past, the Chattanooga Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office provided security free of charge to the city's largest festival.

Friends of the Festival, which runs Riverbend, will assess the total costs of security at the end of the festival and determine how it will affect next year's admission price, Baker said.

Among the other most noticeable changes people will see, he said, is that patrons who carry a collapsible chair or large tote bag into the festival will be directed by security personnel to a different line at the gate so those items can be searched. The idea had been discussed before the bombing at the Boston Marathon this year, but that event "upgraded security discussions" at events around the country, Baker said.

Since 9/11, the Chattanooga Police Department has had more than 100 officers working Riverbend each day, with another 60 officers just outside the event. The department picked up the tab for the officers.

But the department said earlier this year that it couldn't afford to do that anymore. Police Chief Bobby Dodd has estimated the cost to his department for Riverbend 2012 was around $200,000.

In early May, Dodd proposed 60 officers to work the event for a charge of about $115,000 and an additional 60 officers to work outside the gate, with Riverbend paying for the city officers. Baker said Friends of the Festival looked at that plan and came up with a similar plan that involves more sheriff's deputies and personnel from the private company ERMC Security Solutions.

"We've always worked with the Chattanooga Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department and will continue to, but we felt like, if we were going to pay for it, we wanted to manage it," Baker said. "Like any business."

As in past years, the majority of the force will be Chattanooga and Hamilton County officers, with the rest being contracted through ERMC, according to Baker. Hesitant to reveal tactical details of the plan, Baker said there will be a decrease in the number of uniformed city police officers at Riverbend this year, but those on site will be moving around.

"We want our security to be friendly and hospitable," he said, "but also proactive if they see something wrong."

Baker said his team has been working with Chattanooga police Officer Sgt. Austin Garrett, who has taken the lead on security the last four years, to create a plan that involves six zones manned by officers who have either been handpicked or who offered their services to the festival. In addition, two tactical teams will be roaming the festival grounds, he said.

"We have a good plan," he said. "I can't really detail the plan or the number of officers, but in the zone ... where kids hang out, all of the officers will be [school resource officers], for example. They are use to dealing with kids."

Other festivals in Chattanooga and the region pay for their own security.

Carla Pritchard, owner and director of Chattanooga Presents, which produces the Nightfall concert series, as well as such events as Pops on the River around the July 4 holiday, said her organization pays for its own security.

"We pay $30 per officer for a minimum of four hours," she said. "We've paid for every event since the beginning. We would love to not pay."

For Nightfall, she hires a dozen city officers for each of the 18 concerts in the weekly series. She said she hires 25 city officers for the Pops concerts, which draws about 25,000.

Up the road in Manchester, Tenn., the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival pays "negotiated rates" to Manchester, Coffee County and the state for officers who work in and around the 700-acre farm where the festival is held, Jeff Cuellar, director of connectivity for AC Entertainment, which co-produces the event, said.

Private security firms supply workers inside the festival site, he said.

"We pay for what we use, but each event and every deal is different," Cuellar said.

While some of the inner workings of security have changed at Riverbend, Baker says, what remains the same is the emphasis Friends of the Festival puts on the safety of festivalgoers.

"Security is our No. 1 priority," he said. "It always is."

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6354.