Two more concerts are planned this week at a city-owned outdoor plaza in West Fargo despite photos of last weekend's concertgoers enjoying the band Hairball without masks or social distancing.
Epic Events, an offshoot of Epic Properties that developed the multi-use complex on Sheyenne Street and 32nd Avenue South, is hosting a series of summer concerts at the plaza. The outdoor plaza is managed by the nonprofit West Fargo Events, which leased out the space to Epic Events for the concerts.
Country act Sawyer Brown is scheduled to perform at the plaza on Thursday, Aug. 6, and Jimmie Allen with Matt Sell is scheduled to play Saturday, Aug. 8.
Epic's first concert, the '80s tribute band Hairball, was held at the plaza Saturday, Aug. 1. Prior to the concert, West Fargo City Administrator Tina Fisk told the City Commission that attendees would be required to have their temperature taken outside before entering the concert area, where social distancing would be expected. Attendees were told a mask would be required prior to taking temperatures and in places where social distancing would not be practical, such as in line for temperatures and entry.
On Monday, Aug. 3, Fisk said it appeared those regulations were held up. However, photos of the concert area inside the plaza seem to show hundreds of people standing close together with no masks. The images were circulated on social media, and many residents have decried the city's decision to not cancel the events.
McKenzy Olson, vice president of marketing and public relations at Epic, said the venue would be following all recommendations set forth by Gov. Doug Burgum, including selling only 1,800 tickets for the 3,000-person venue to keep capacity below the recommended 45%.
Olson said about 1,500 people attended the concert. She said seeing the photos of the crowd was "disappointing," but she believes Epic is continuing with the events for mental health reasons.
“We’re doing the events for morale and people’s mental health,” she said.
Hand sanitizer was available, high-touch areas were disinfected frequently and venue staff were required to wear masks.
Olson said there were security officers present, advising people to keep their distance from one another, but they could not physically force anyone to move.
Olson said Epic Companies will be posting more signs throughout the venue and continuing to encourage social distancing and mask wearing, but says they can't kick out anyone for not complying.
West Fargo City Commissioner Eric Gjerdevig said he voted to approve a recent request for the concert to be held because it was stated the promoter would follow state guidelines related to COVID-19.
“You have to be able to enforce social distancing. I have no idea how that’s possible (at a concert),” Gjerdevig said.
He said last week that if he saw photos or video that people were crowded together, he’d ask the commission to consider canceling the rest of the concerts at the venue.
The item was not on Monday's commission agenda, but Commissioner Brad Olson began a discussion about future events under non-agenda items during the meeting.
Olson asked Monday that a report of how the concert was handled be prepared. He said if the city is following state guidelines, the upcoming concerts should not be allowed, especially when Cass County is seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
"I don't see how we can have a concert Thursday night as scheduled," he said. "I don't feel we should allow this concert to go forth because it was not maintained at this concert."
Commissioner Mark Simmons said officials cannot take action on something that was not on the agenda and it was unfair to raise the issue without any representatives from Epic at Monday's meeting.
"We shouldn't have to get the managers or promoters of these events the approval," Olson said.
Commissioner Mandy George said she attended the event. "West Fargo Events did what they could to follow the guidelines as best they could," she said.
She said she wouldn't support canceling events but would back better policies to encourage social distancing in the future.
The city also hosted its annual street fair Saturday, Aug. 1, on Sheyenne Street. Fisk said Monday that she received many compliments on the event, which was spread out down Sheyenne Street near Main.