Thunder Alley watch party off; permit process to change

BY MICHAEL KIMBALL mkimball@opubco.com Modified: May 24, 2012 at 11:13 am •  Published: May 23, 2012

Thunder officials announced Wednesday they will no longer show games on the giant screen affixed to the exterior of Chesapeake Energy Arena, ending what had grown into an NBA playoffs tradition in Oklahoma City.

The pregame Thunder Alley festivities will continue on Reno Avenue north of the arena, team officials said in a statement. What officials describe as an “outdoor block party” with food, drinks, music, games and face-painting will begin three hours before home games as it did during the regular season; festivities will come to an end when the game starts.

The move comes in the wake of a shooting late Monday in Bricktown as thousands of people left Thunder Alley and Chesapeake Energy Arena after the Thunder's series-clinching win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Eight people were hurt, including one critically.

The Thunder Alley crowd watching the game had swelled to an estimated 6,000 people Monday, far larger than the crowds that watched games outside the arena during previous playoff runs.

The team operates Thunder Alley using what the city calls a Revocable Right-of-Way Use Permit, which is needed when an event operator wants a city street closed. Examples downtown include large events like the Festival of the Arts in April and smaller events like Better Block OKC last weekend.

City officials said the process to apply for and approve those permits, and ensure event operators are in compliance with a permit's rules, has become so cumbersome and vague that efforts began a year ago to make changes.

Vague rules

The permits are not governed by any city ordinance or any city document, assistant city attorney Dan Brummitt said. A chapter of city code related to some types of permits and licenses, and a subsection of the code's streets chapter dealing with permits for parades and “street meetings” with closed roads, don't apply.

“It's just the council's inherent authority to limit the use of public streets,” Brummitt said.

Typically, the permits are approved by a city council vote, and each permit is essentially a stand-alone contract between the city and the event operator.

The Thunder's original permit for Thunder Alley this season was approved in December and included the team's home games through the regular season finale last month. The Thunder got a new permit for the playoffs signed by Public Works Director Eric Wenger without getting a council vote because there wasn't enough time between when the NBA announced game dates for each playoff round and the first Thunder home game of the series, city spokeswoman Kristy Yager said.

A copy of the Thunder's newest permit was not available for The Oklahoman to review Wednesday, but it is similar to the permit the Thunder used for the regular season, which was included in a council meeting agenda late last year.