TEMPE, AZ - Three acoustic guitar players spread out along Mill Avenue and strummed melodies Friday night. In most aspects, it was a typical weekend night for the buskers, but this time they didn't have to compete with amplified bands or drumming to be heard.
Mill Avenue is still far from quiet, but since The City of Tempe authorized a temporary noise control program Sept. 23, which will last until December, street performers in Tempe's downtown area are no longer allowed to use amplifiers or loud drums.
The pilot program is the first step in an ongoing Tempe project to evaluate the effect noise has on businesses, residents and atmosphere in the downtown area between College Avenue and Farmer Avenue and between University Drive and Tempe Town Lake. Tempe has been receiving more complaints about noise since more people have moved into apartments in the area, said Lisa Collins, Tempe's community development director.
"It was disruptive to some of the businesses and residents because of the hours that it was happening," Collins said.
The city has existing rules regarding noise in Tempe, but they specify decibel levels that are difficult to understand, Collins said.
"In some neighborhoods it is really difficult to get a handle on what might be excessive noise," she said. "We're looking for something easier to understand, easier to regulate."
Mike War has been playing the guitar for 20 years and recently began busking on Mill Avenue to make some money after losing his job. War plays in the band "In It For Storms" and thinks that the issue of amplified sound is about quality.
"If the quality of music is right, I think it gives a nice ambiance to the city," War said.
Twelve String John has been playing on Mill Avenue every night for seven years. He has seen multiple changes in the way Tempe handles street performers and feels it is an attempt to eliminate a certain element. However, the banning of amplifiers is beneficial for improving the quality of music, he said.
"If you weren't talented, we wouldn't have to hear about it," John said. "The less talented they were, the more tools they used."
Jamie Mitchell, manager of Bison Witches Bar and Deli, likes the street performers and feels they make the area more attractive. Residents knew what the nightlife on Mill Avenue was like and shouldn't complain, Mitchell said.
"At least they are doing something," Mitchell said. "It's the panhandlers we should do something about, not the people giving the area a culture and character."
Ashley Nogales, manager of Hippy Gypsy, said it is a lot nicer working on the weekends since the noise control program went into affect. A band used to stand right outside the store's door and play loud heavy metal music for hours, which competed with the music Hippy Gypsy uses to attract people to the store, Nogales said.
Mindi Henderson, manager of The Shoe Mill, has had experiences with musicians she said aren't very good playing outside the store's door, but whether it adds to or subratcts from the environment is subjective, she said. Since what happens on Mill Avenue affects everybody, Henderson said, it's best if nothing is too loud.
The city is working with the Downtown Tempe Community, who is developing a survey for businesses and residents, to review the impact the temporary noise change has had on the Downtown's environment. The next stage in the program is to eliminate noise from outdoor speakers. Eliminating noise sources one at a time allows the City to pinpoint which areas can be improved with regulation, Collins said.
"Knowing there are going to be more people living here, this will become increasingly an issue for us," Collins said. "We want to do something reasonable and logical before it turns into something else."
The city's goal is to create a downtown with balanced entertainment that appeals to a wider community, which will entail toning everything down some, Collins said.
"The goal is to have music and entertainment on mill that multiple people can enjoy and appreciate, not situations that might discourage people from coming to the downtown," Collins said.
The use of amplifiers will only be aloud with a special event permit.