State Street is up for sale. That's the message Phil Ejercito is hoping to spread when it comes to the site of Madison's famous Halloween revelry. A critic of the city's plans to place fences and charge admission to the six block stretch between the Capitol and the UW Library Mall, he is selling a deed to the street on eBay.
The description for the sale reads:
In keeping with the spirit of the City of Madison's official Halloween 2006 plans, CRASH Madison is proud to offer this deed for State Street for whatever unofficial non-purposes you desire! Fence it off without assuming liability! Charge people money to cross the street, or to access their own homes or jobs! Proceeds go to support CRASH Madison (Coalition for Reclaiming Area Streets on Halloween).
Ejercito is the organizer of CRASH Madison, a system to provide text message updates about the ups and downs of the Freakfest Halloween party planned for Saturday, Oct. 28. The sale is a publicity stunt "to draw a little attention to what we're doing," Ejercito says. "First of all, it's fun and it's something that will hopefully get CRASH some attention."
He's also interested in making a point with the online auction. "Yeah, there is a quasi-serious statement to be made about selling off State Street and charging admission," Ejercito says.
"We'll see if it happens," says mayoral spokesperson George Twigg, speculating that these kinds of sales on eBay have run their course and are no longer tolerated by the company. He points to the recent auction of Stephen Colbert's portrait-within-a-portrait from The Colbert Report, one that eBay pulled after bids quickly reached $999,999,999.00. As for the criticism implicit in the sale, Twigg says "the mayor thinks the plan that has been outlined for Halloween will make it a better event. He understands that some people will disagree, and that's their right to do so."
Madison's downtown Business Improvement District (BID) spokesperson Mary Carbine says it's a funny idea. "It's certainly novel and will grab attention," she continues. When asked about the political message intended by the sale, Carbine says that while there are many important civil liberties issues currently at stake both in Madison and society in general, she thinks "paying $5 to party one night on State Street is not one of them." The issue comes down to the intent of the assembly, she continues.
"I think the Founding Fathers' idea of freedom of assembly was for people to be able to direct their political destiny," Carbine says, "it's not about the right on one night to party. This is about preserving safety and the opportunity to come and have a wonderful time without it causing harm to people and property." Pointing to the city's stated purpose of selling tickets in order to defray policing costs, she says "this is not trying to prevent any kind of political expression or demonstration."
Ejercito points to the city terming the event a "spontaneous occurrence" while creating an admissions system for a public street. "We'll start the bidding at $5, because that's what the city is charging," he says. From there, prospective Madison real-estate moguls will have three days to purchase the city's centerpiece district.
The top bidder "will then be the proud and happy owner of a deed to State Street," Ejercito says.
How much is State Street worth?
"Priceless," says Twigg. He riffs on the ubiquitous Mastercard ad campaign, listing off the price of a Freakfest ticket and the cost of Halloween for the city before hitting the punchline.
Carbine points to the city assessor's office, noting that one can actually go online and search for the assessed value of every property on State Street to calculate a total sum. "As far as its cultural value to downtown," she continues, "you can't put a price on it."
In addition to seeking publicity with the auction, Ejercito says the other goal is to "raise a little bit of money to offset some of our operating costs" associated with operating the texting system. He's not sure how much money the auction might raise, but is not too concerned about the final offer. To him, it's the opening bid that matters.