ST. GEORGE – A Halloween party at Fiesta Fun Center Friday night had unexpected guests in blue uniforms show up to shut down a part of the event – a dance party. Organizers say they had a city-approved permit allowing it; city officials say they didn’t.
Canceled dance party
The “Monster Mash” was an event organized by the Heart of Dixie event group that advertised unlimited access to the bumper boats, go-karts, mini golf and a dance party. The event was to run from 9 p.m. Friday to 1 a.m. Saturday.
Sometime between 9:30-10 p.m., around five-six St. George Police officers arrived on scene instructing that no dancing was to take place, said Brett Crockett, owner of Fiesta Fun Center.
While Crockett supplied the venue and extra amenities and security for the Monster Mash, he didn’t have a hand in securing a disputed permit allowing dancing.
“There was no beef with the music,” Crockett said, “It was just the mere fact of no dancing allowed.”
Karlee Jarvis, a security supervisor for the Heart of Dixie, said a special events permit had been obtained that allowed dancing as a part of it.
Both Jarvis and Crockett said Jared Keddington, with the promoter of the event, showed the officers their permit. Despite this, however, Jarvis said, they did as the police instructed and didn’t hold the dance party portion of the Monster Mash. Crockett said the announcement was even made over the center’s speakers that there was to be absolutely no dancing that evening.
The rest of the event – the music, rides and mini golf – were allowed to continue unhindered.
“It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” Crockett said. While officers stayed and observed the event, he said, one of them was taking video.
Some time after the police arrived, St. George Police Captain identified as Capt. Scott Staley arrived with what Jarvis described as “an absolutely new packet that said ‘no dancing’ in pen.”
The original permit had apparently been amended, Jarvis said.
Initial attendance at the time of the police officers’ arrival was estimated at around 400, Crockett said, though Jarvis estimated it may have been more than twice that.
The event itself was quite controlled, Jarvis said, with security provided by both Heart of Dixie and Fiesta Fun. “We had, I would say, at least 20 security guards,” she said.
Due to the cancellation of the dance party, news apparently spread by attendees to friends got out and the Monster Mash didn’t draw as much of a crowd as hoped. Crockett said Fiesta Fun made around 20 percent of what they had anticipated. As for attendees, some wanted refunds, Jarvis said, a lot of people were upset and left.
As for the appearance of six officers on scene, those involved in the incident said it felt a bit heavy-handed on the police’s part.
In response to an inquiry by St. George News about Friday night’s incident, Heart of Dixie issued the following statement:
The city issued a permit. We applied for a special event permit for a “dance”. It was issued. Then when they had no way to shut it down they produced additional pages to the permit that we were not given on which they had hand written that the dance was not allowed. Not to mention we were on private property, it is a first amendment right to dance, we weren’t playing music loud enough to be heard off the property and when the police were there NO ONE was dancing. They sent 6 officers to make sure no one was dancing! DANCING IS NOT A CRIME.
Jarvis said the special event permit had been done online and sent into the city and it hadn’t been a face-to-face deal. She said officers told her that they, or city officials at least, had met with Keddington face-to-face over the matter and explained there could be no dancing, something which she disputes.
Marc Mortensen, assistant to the city manager, said Saturday that applications for outdoor dances and concerts must first be heard, vetted, and finally approved by the City Council. The council needs to consider such factors as: how many people the event may bring in, is there enough parking, will there be adequate security, will there be any great impact on traffic or residents in the area, and so on.
As the City Council needs to approve such events, Mortensen said, the city encourages people to get their event applications in at least a month before an event takes place so it can be put on the agenda for the council to address in a regular meeting.
“It’s not an arduous process,” Mortensen said. It also wasn’t one Keddington was ignorant of as he’s promoted many other events within the city, he said.
The application for the Monster Mash was made earlier this week, he said. And while it was ultimately approved by the city, it was supposedly spelled out that no dances could be held.
“He chose not to abide by the permit,” Mortensen said. “That’s why the police shut it down.”
As to the mention of an amended permit, he said there was “no such thing.” What Staley is said to have showed officers and Keddington was a copy of the original permit highlighting there was to be no dancing.
The City of St. George does provide many forms and permit applications on its website, the special event permit being among them. It is a five-page form that asks the applicant to check boxes detailing what type of activities will be had at the event, along with other details such as participant size, whether tents or stages are being used, site sound set up, and so forth.
However, the form does not state that certain activities are subject to review and approval by the City Council. The requirements are outlined on a separate document.
Comparisons to St. George and the surrounding area and the 1980s film “Footloose” have become common since September 2011 when the City of St. George’s dance hall ordinance was put in the public eye by the now shuttered GoGo37 concert hall. In that instance, much was said over social media about the city not allowing the business to have a dance permit. However, city officials said the business owners never submitted an application in the first place. The then-owners fired back saying they believed an application wouldn’t be approved regardless of whether they were compliant with city ordinances or otherwise.
During the summer of 2012, Dance Haven applied for a dance hall permit from the city but was subsequently denied over zoning issues and other concerns despite a public outpouring of support. Neighboring business owners were also not fond of the idea of having a dance hall next door. At the time, Councilman Gil Almquist said Dance Haven was a victim of previous dance halls that had come to St. George and left an unsavory reputation. Some on the council were concerned about the potential dance hall’s proximity to a youth treatment facility as well as business owners’ objections, while others just didn’t feel a dance hall was an application supported by zoning in the area. (See ed. note)
Though the applicant ending up agreeing with the council’s decision, some in the public still jeered at city officials over not allowing a bona fide dance hall to take root in the city.
In August, a back-to-school dance to be held at the Washington City Community Center by TSUnami PROductions was canceled by Washington City Police Chief Jim Keith. Concerns were evidently raised by a Facebook post made by the promoter’s son calling the event a “rave.” Though the incident occurred in Washington City, it once again led members of the public to once again make comparisons to “Footloose.”
At the end of the day, Mortensen said, the act of dancing itself isn’t the deal breaker. The City Council approves other outdoor dances and dance-related functions throughout the year. The problem occurs when the application process isn’t followed through properly or certain requirements of the permit aren’t met.
Ed. note: Clarification added regarding details surrounding Dance Haven and the TSUnami PROductions matter.
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