HELENA — Helena city staff say they’re planning updates to the rules for approving large events in the city.
On Wednesday, staff members – including interim city manager Tim Burton and several department directors – met with representatives from Downtown Helena, Inc., and the Helena Business Improvement District to talk about ways to streamline the process for getting an event permit. The two sides say they’re on the same page about the type of improvements that need to be made.
“I feel the permitting trajectory, the way we’re going, we are following the same path,” said Helena Police Chief Brett Petty.
“Ultimately, we all want a vital downtown, we all want a vital community, and I think that this is going to help tremendously,” said Micky Zurcher, executive director of the Helena BID.
During the meeting, leaders said they’re working on formalizing the process, simplifying forms and getting all necessary documentation in a single place. They’re hoping to improver consistency – making the process clearer and more understandable for all events, regardless of their size and where they are in the city.
“Every event, every scenario is going to be a little different,” Zurcher said. “We all recognize that, but we have to have a good starting point, and I think that that’s maybe the thing that is our greatest opportunity here, is that starting point can be improved.”
One area of discussion is alcohol rules. City ordinances prohibit people from having open containers of alcohol outdoors in parks, streets and other city property. Groups organizing an event can seek a waiver of those rules during the permitting process if they get liability insurance.
However, not every event can qualify for that type of waiver. In 2021, the organizers of Big Sky Pride found their insurance setup didn’t match what the city was looking for, so they had to ask the city commission to approve a general waiver. City leaders said they hoped that type of request could be handled by staff as part of the permitting process going forward.
“I think that’s a great idea; it gives that, yes, in this area you’re allowed to have alcoholic beverages, but once you’re outside of this area, you cannot,” said Petty.
Petty said, years ago, the permitting process ran through the Helena Police Department, so he’s seen it over a long period of time. He believes they’ve already made improvements, but there’s still more to do.
“We’re in a much better spot with the permitting process with the city, it is way more streamlined,” he said. “Is there tweaks that we need to make? Absolutely.”
City leaders say they hope to put together a proposal that could go before the city commission this winter. That means the new process could be in effect before the busy event season picks up again in the spring.