City Gets 450 Free Tickets in Deal to Bring Back Electric Zoo Festival
RANDALL’S ISLAND — The Parks Department will get 450 complimentary tickets to the Electric Zoo Festival for its staff as part of a deal with the rave's organizer to bring the event back to Randall’s Island after two concert-goers fatally overdosed at last year’s show.
To throw the three-day techno-dance extravaganza on city-owned land in August, the organizer must also pay a $600,000 fee to the Randall’s Island Park Alliance, the nonprofit that runs the East River green space, according to the agreement obtained by DNAinfo New York.
RIPA will also get 450 free tickets, worth $72,550.
The pact, signed by the Parks Department, the festival organizer and RIPA in late April, also includes two contract clauses requiring Electric Zoo to have a drug and alcohol risk-reduction plan and a medical services plan in place.
While the drug and alcohol rider outlines steps the organizer must take to deter the use of illegal substances, it acknowledges that rave drugs like Molly and Ecstasy will likely be present.
“The plan must include messages tailored to the drug types that are anticipated to be present at the event and consequences of use and general safety messages about drugs and alcohol,” the rider says in a section mandating the organizer make public service announcements through social media, live announcements on stage and videos by performers.
Electric Zoo had been a fixture on Randall’s Island for the past five Labor Day weekends, but its future was cast in doubt last year after two concert-goers — Jeffrey Russ, 23, and Olivia Rotondo, 21 — overheated and died after taking Molly. Their deaths prompted the city to shut down the event a day early.
The overdoses also shined a light on the rowdy behavior and drug use at the 2013 show: A 16-year-old girl reported a sexual assault at the festival. Police also made 31 arrests for drug sales and disorderly conduct.
Organizer EZ Festivals LLC applied on Dec. 5 for a city permit to throw the three-day party this summer. The Parks Department only approved it in April.
“The city conducted an extensive interagency review … to update Electric Zoo’s health and safety measures with multiple new requirements and to ensure this event has the security and medical services in place to keep attendees safe throughout the event,” Parks Department spokesman Philip Abramson said in a statement.
The drug and medical service riders are new in the 2014 agreement. Other organizers of events on Randall’s Island, including the Governors Ball, have been required to sign similar riders this year, according to RIPA.
The drug rider mandates that Electric Zoo have “roamers” who scour the venue looking for intoxicated or drugged-up attendees in possible need of medical assistance. The rider suggests a ratio of one roamer for every 500 attendees.
The festival, which was also required to increase its insurance coverage this year, is expected to draw 42,000 concert-goers on each of its three days.
The rider prohibits the sale of energy drinks by any vendor selling alcohol, and requires EZ Festival LLC to consult with the NYPD on a plan to reduce the presence of drugs.
In April, EZ Festival also outlined its security plan for the 2014 event, which included drug-sniffing dogs that will patrol the park grounds and thorough background checks on all vendors.
“The opportunity to again host Electric Zoo on Randall’s Island is a responsibility we take seriously, and we look forward to expanding our safety and security measures in order to further improve the concert experience for our fans,” the festival’s founders, Mike Bindra and Laura De Palma, said in a statement.
Abramson said the city will conduct a second security review of the festival when the organizer submits a plan later this summer.
But Geoffrey Croft, head of watchdog group New York City Park Advocates, said the festival shouldn't return at all.
"It is truly appalling this event is being allowed to return after what happened last year," he told DNAinfo. "The organizers, the city and the Randall's lsland Park Alliance proved beyond a shadow of a doubt the irresponsible nature of holding this type of event on public parkland."
"It is doubtful the new security measures laid out in the contract will eliminate the types of incidents seen at last year's debacle," Croft added, questioning how the organizer can verify all 42,000 concert-goers are the minimum age of 18. "I hope I'm 1,000 percent wrong."
The medical services rider mandates that city officials, the Parks Department and the Health Department receive email updates during the festival about the number of people taken to hospitals and the medical reason for the transports. The organizer must also provide the names and dates of birth of those transported to the Health Department.
The New York Post reported last year that the festival organizer allegedly hid the number of sick concert-goers from the NYPD by keeping them in private ambulances and medical tents.
DNAinfo reported last year that Bindra once worked for the notorious Chelsea nightclub Twilo, which the city shuttered in 2001 after two fatal overdoses. The city also accused the club of using private ambulances to avoid police involvement. A spokesman for Bindra told DNAinfo at the time that he was not involved in the club’s security and only booked talent and promoted shows.
For the Parks Department, one perk of the Electric Zoo deal is that some personnel will get to party.
Under the licensing agreement, EZ Festival LLC must give the Parks Department 100 general admission tickets and 50 VIP tickets for each day of the festival. RIPA also receives the same deal for each of the three days. Depending on the day of the festival, a general admission tickets costs between $79 and $139, while a VIP ticket costs between $179 and $279.
Abramson told DNAinfo that it’s “common practice” for the agency to receive complimentary tickets to large-scale events on city-owned parkland.
“In this case, the city and the Randall's Island Park Alliance will provide a small number of tickets to volunteers, staff, interns, and nonprofit partners in appreciation for their efforts to Parks throughout the year,” he said in a statement.
Abramson added said that the $600,000 fee to RIPA goes toward the maintenance and operation of the 480-acre island.
The festival is set to be held Aug. 29 to 31 and take place on about two dozen acres of parkland, but under the agreement the organizer can begin setting up on Aug. 11 and has until Sept. 8 to break down the site.
Abramson said that the time frame is standard for an event of Electric Zoo’s size and noted that the public will have access to the area for most of that period.
Croft said Electric Zoo takes away precious green space from the public.
"Electric Zoo is obviously not a park purpose and only further takes away open space from the people who live in the community," he said.