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Masquerade ball in Krog tunnel irks some residents

Promoter promises spectacular event but Cabbagetown, Reynoldstown cite concerns about traffic, process

For one weekend in late October, a festival organizer wants to turn the iconic graffiti-covered Krog Street Tunnel into a masquerade ball where as many as 1,999 people will pay $40 to $100 to don masks and mingle for a private "sultry underground event." But some Cabbagetown and Reynoldstown residents are concerned about the potential headache that closing the tunnel might pose, as well as the process to approve the private event.

Randall Fox of the Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces, the company organizing the event, says similar events held in Paris, Amsterdam, and New York inspired him to create such an event here — and hold it in the Krog Tunnel.

"It's iconic," he says. "It's a landmark. No one's ever done it before."

To accomplish this, Fox has asked the city for permission to close the tunnel to motorists for 28 to 30 hours to set up, run, and then clean up after the event. Pedestrians and bicyclists would not be able to access the tunnel during the event on Saturday night to early Sunday morning.

The idea hasn't sat well with some residents who have tended to the tunnel for decades, sidestep the never-ending model shoots next to its ever-changing walls, and rely on it to quickly access DeKalb Avenue, the Atlanta Beltline, and other areas north of the railroad tracks. The tunnel is one of only three ways people can access the two neighborhoods from the north.

Cabbagetown Neighborhood Improvement Association President Bryan Brunson says the closure "poses a serious inconvenience" to residents who depend on the tunnel. The community also had concerns about parking plans.

"It's pure insanity to close that tunnel at any point in time for something like that," says Cabbagetown resident David Thayer, a garden designer who lives near the tunnel. "That's the main north-south artery for the neighborhood. It's a great inconvenience anytime, night or day."

Reynoldstown Civic Improvement League President Catherine Woodling says residents are concerned because pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and emergency responders depend on Krog Street. The other, she says, is that neither neighborhood thought they received satisfactory answers from Fox about their traffic concerns.

Community message boards blew up with debate about the event. Residents started email conversations with Fox and Caren West, the AFFPS spokeswoman, and raised concerns on the event's Facebook page. Someone even created a rival Facebook group called "The Anti-Krog Masquerade." Local artist Catlanta suggested buffing the tunnel's walls the night before: "They may have the tunnel, but we control what's on the walls."

Fox thinks some of the concern is because it's the first time the event has been held. He hopes — and is planning — that the masquerade will become an annual soiree. But residents, in conversations on Facebook, with Creative Loafing, and in emails, say they are disappointed about the process to notify residents.

At the Neighborhood Planning Unit N meeting&emdash;in June, members urged Fox to meet with both neighborhood associations and voted to defer a recommendation on his permit. Fox attended the Cabbagetown meeting, which according to attendees and Fox was a bit uncomfortable. According to accounts of the meeting, Fox was less than responsive when asked about how much money the event would make, and whether a contribution would be made to the community. CNIA voted not to support the event. Brunson says residents wanted to know about the masquerade's parking plan and how many tickets would be sold. When they didn't receive a satisfactory answer, the association voted not to support the plan. Fox also did not attend subsequent meetings of the Reynoldstown group and NPU-N, which voted in July to recommend the city reject the application.

Fox, however, says that he's followed the permitting process to the letter. He says he fulfilled his required attendance at the first NPU-N meeting and wasn't given adequate information about where the Reynoldstown meeting would take place and when. Outdoor event organizers are not required to attend neighborhood meetings, although some do as a courtesy. He declined to answer some Cabbagtown residents' questions because he says the group focused on financials.

"You don't have those discussions at a neighborhood association meeting, and it has no bearing on the permit," he says.

AFFPS is a private company but has a nonprofit sister organization called the Georgia Foundation for Public Spaces, which assists artists and arts programs. If the event is profitable, Fox says, some cash would go to the GFFPS. The rest would go to cover costs and pay for community benefits. Fox and West said the organization is happy to donate toward efforts to maintain the grounds near the tunnel and paint the Estoria Street entrance. Other community benefits haven't been confirmed. Fox says the response has been positive with many tickets being sold in ZIP codes that include the neigborhoods.

Woodling says Reynoldstown hopes that City Hall "will stand by its neighborhoods" and not allow AFFPS to "continue to disregard our concerns." If there's been misinformation, Woodling says, the community would like answers to its remaining questions and Fox to work with residents toward a mutually beneficial solution.

Mayor Kasim Reed spokeswoman Anne Torres says that "significant public safety issues" are the only thing that could block a permit.

"In this case," she said, "the organization has fulfilled all of the city's requirements."