The Napa City Council and members of the public got their first glance Tuesday night of the magnitude of the BottleRock music festival and how it will impact the city.
Organizers said their plans to manage the estimated 35,000 to 40,000 people expected to hit downtown in May would require street closures, buses galore, traffic signal overrides, the creation of numerous parking lots in and outside the valley and portable toilets along city streets.
Though the event, which runs May 8 through 12, is being held at Napa Valley Expo — state-owned property outside the city’s jurisdiction — BottleRock organizers recently requested closures of city streets, triggering a special event application through city channels.
At Tuesday’s presentation, Mayor Jill Techel had some words for Expo CEO Joe Anderson about the Expo board approving an $80,000 contract for the event in December without first consulting the city.
“My request to you is before you book another event like this, would you let us know ahead of time?” Techel said.
Anderson said the city learned of the event as soon as it was confirmed.
Looking at the big picture, Techel and the rest of the council said they’re excited to have the chance to showcase Napa and host an event that should be an economic boost to the city.
“I’ve got half the city staff here trying to figure out the logistics of dealing with an event this size,” Techel continued. “There are probably times of the year when the valley just couldn’t handle this kind of event, especially during harvest.”
Over the past five weeks, city staff and event organizers have met weekly, said Community Outreach Coordinator Barry Martin. Those meetings have focused on ways to meet transportation, parking, public safety, waste diversion and other needs associated with what is said to be the largest event ever held in Napa.
BottleRockers, as attendees are being called, will enter the Expo through the Third Street entrance, said Site Manager Kohn Dwight. Because of the high pedestrian traffic, organizers are requesting Third Street outside the Expo be closed to all traffic for the duration of the festival.
Emergency vehicles and residents who live in the area would still have access. Festival Director Chung Kuo said the Napa Fire Department will station units on the Silverado Trail side of the Expo to respond to non-BottleRock emergencies on the east side of town.
Closer to Soscol Avenue, Third could be closed to through traffic but buses could be allowed to pass through.
Burnell Street and the former JV Wine and Spirits site at First Street and Silverado Trail could also be closed for bus drop-off locations.
“When you provide bus transit, the bottleneck becomes getting people in and out of the buses and getting the buses dispatched on the road systems back to wherever they parked,” said Hugh Linn, principal at the Napa engineering firm Riechers Spence & Associates, which is working with BottleRock Napa Valley to create a transportation plan.
Linn said there will be 25 buses loading and unloading festivalgoers at any given time during peak hours, requiring substantial loading areas. Additional loading areas will be required for buses when the event shuts down at 10 p.m., so BottleRock is working with CalTrans and the California Highway Patrol to close Silverado Trail outside the Expo to allow for additional bus staging each evening.
“With such events, people arrive over longer period of time but everyone wants to leave simultaneously,” Linn said. “Our capacity has to be greater on the leave than it is on the arrival.”
None of the closures have been finalized and plans are subject to change, Linn said. He called the plan a “draft.”
Organizers are still working to negotiate agreements with public and private partners to lease areas to park an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 vehicles, Linn said. Attendees are encouraged to carpool — and will be given steep parking discounts if they do so — and chartered buses from Bay Area and Sacramento-area cities are being organized.
Smaller lots closer to the Expo are planned to house VIP guests, while larger locations, including Napa Pipe, the Sonoma Raceway and the Solano County Fairgrounds will be used to house the vehicles of the masses.
Organizers requested the city turn over 500 downtown parking spaces to be used during the event, but the council seemed to sour on the idea when it learned those spaces would be used for BottleRock staff parking, not high-rolling VIP attendees who would spend money at adjacent businesses. The council said the city may give some spaces over for the event, but is not inclined to hand them over for two and a half weeks, as BottleRock requested. Councilman Scott Sedgley suggested BottleRock bus its employees into Napa.
Martin said it’s important to have some parking downtown for use by those not attending the festival.
“There will be locals or visitors who are coming to Napa that weekend, it is Mother’s Day weekend as well,” Martin said. “They have a right to have a shot at a parking space downtown as well. Without some kind of proactive approach, all of the downtown property would get consumed by festival goers.”
Though attendees will be instructed not to park in downtown Napa, Martin said businesses located within two miles of the area may want to find a way to secure their parking lots if they want to keep BottleRockers out.
BottleRock has hired a community outreach team to communicate with affected neighbors and businesses, Dwight said. A town hall meeting is tentatively scheduled for April 3, but Dwight did not provide details.
Dwight said communication is key in keeping festival-goers from parking in neighborhoods surrounding the Expo.
“It’s pre-addressing the crowd and it’s addressing them before they even decide how they’re going to get here,” he said.
Attendees will be brought to the event by bus and portable toilets will be placed along walking routes, including Juarez Street, to accommodate pedestrians.
Dwight said traffic signals could be manually overridden to allow for a train of 20 buses or so to travel Soscol or Silverado Trail and maximize efficiency. Linn estimated it could take around 2.5 hours to get everyone out of the Expo at night if organizers get the closures they seek. From about 9 to midnight, all area roads could be filled with buses.
Councilman Peter Mott said the volume may sound overwhelming, but if done right, could work.
“To give people a point of reference, lots of people have been to a baseball game and I think about when I leave a Giants game, there’s 40,000 people leaving a Giants game all at the same time,” Mott said. “With multiple CHP and city cops and public transit and a lot of cars mixed in, they all get out in a reasonably controlled manner. ... Although incredibly busy by Napa standards, I think it’s very doable if it’s managed well.”
Buses will run until 2 a.m. to transport those who go to downtown restaurants and bars. A private transport company will be on call for those who stay out later.
Councilman Alfredo Pedroza praised organizers for their work.
“We haven’t done something like this in Napa so the fact that you’re doing everything to make sure you’re dotting your i’s, crossing your t’s I think is going to be helpful,” he said. “Thank you for making sure you’re doing everything and hiring local people.”
Catherine Heywood, director of operations at Visit Napa Valley, estimated the event will bring the city of Napa an additional $350,000 in visitor bed taxes alone.
While the council praised the event for what it will bring to the city, it was not receptive to the idea of including three smaller fundraising events that same weekend.
In addition to the music festival, BottleRock organizers want to hold a cycling, running and paddle board event to raise money for local nonprofits, said David Templeton, director of Human Powered Events.
Templeton said participants are being asked to raise at least $1,000 for charity. In exchange, they will receive a ticket to BottleRock. Each event would have about 500 participants.
Martin said while the events are small compared to BottleRock, the city cannot handle any more special events that weekend.
“After a short period of consideration, the special event team has come to the conclusion that it’s really not practical for us to even consider any additional special events than what we’re already try to deal with,” he said.
The smaller events were proposed after the city staff was already overwhelmed, Martin said. “To create more parking need, more law enforcement need, more traffic control need is really not feasible,” he said.
Templeton said BottleRock still plans to hold the events and will try to move them outside the city limits into county land.
The council said it wants to get through the first year before expanding what is already the largest event in its history.
“I heard about this project very initially a year ago and it was going to be the possibility of a two-day event that we were going to ease into and learn and move forward,” Mott said. “It’s a five-day event now.”
Mott, who said he’s attending BottleRock, said he’s “cautiously ecstatic.”
“I think it’s important that the main project goes very well,” he said. “I think it’s important for the city, I think it’s important for the promoters of the festival and I feel pretty strongly that trying to do too much in the inaugural year is a mistake. I think we’ve got a full plate this year.”