Tempe rulers master planning of the downtown area not workign very well!!

Residents sound drum for change Late-night culture, Tempe homeowners clash

Katie Nelson The Arizona Republic Jan. 13, 2006 12:00 AM

The thunka-thunka of djembe drums bounces off downtown Tempe's brick walls every Saturday night. For years, the same African rhythms have been pulsing out of this circle as steadily as the waft of smoke from the drummers' clove cigarettes, sometimes into the early morning.

The pounding, rebounding sound of the instruments is a part of Tempe's weekend nightlife. It has also become one of the first points of contention. Call it the growing pains of downtown Tempe as it congeals into a place with urban activity and residential housing.

The neighborhood association for The Lofts at Orchidhouse, which sits adjacent to the flagstone park behind My Big Fat Greek Restaurant where the drummers play, has complained to the city. Police responded, starting in late December, by kicking the drummers out of the park at midnight based on a city park curfew they enforce throughout the city.

They did it last weekend with a bike officer announcing, "It's time to shut down for the night" at exactly midnight. It didn't stop the drumming though. It only propelled the now grumbling group to move to the open concrete outside the downtown post office at Fifth Street and Mill Avenue where the drummers - young and old, professional and homeless, local and from out-of-town - continued playing.

"This way," said Kate Erickson, as she walked across the street. "Follow the sound of the drums and the smell of the hippies."

The drum circle isn't an organized group - a varied crew just shows up at the park every weekend to play. It can range from a few people to dozens, sitting on or around the concrete base of a statue.

The music also attracts kids and tourists who hang out within earshot. The kids joke around, play hackie sack and munch on pizza; the tourists snap pictures, gawk at the kids and nod their heads to the rhythm. No one seems to bother anyone else.

"We're a pretty laid-back group," explained Erickson, who is a massage therapist and single mother by day and drummer by night. "How can you not be when you have your friends and your music?"

But the group apparently does bother its residential neighbors. Fred Neal, president of the Orchidhouse Condominium Association, said he has heard a number of complaints. And police say they sporadically field noise complaints from the upscale complex of million-dollar penthouses.

"We want to have culture in the area," Neal said, "just not outside our windows. When it (the drumming) goes to 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, it goes from pleasant to annoying."

He met with several representatives from the Police Department last month. They found the park curfew ordinance as a compromise.

"The downtown is changing, it's evolving," police Commander David Humble said.

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