Thursday, September 11, 2014
by Dave Felice from the Greater Park Hill Community Newsletter – September 2, 2014
Festival Revives Questions About Admission Based Events
The 10-hour heavy metal music Chive Fest in August has rekindled the controversy over Denver’s policy of allowing private operators to close parts of public parks and charge admission for commercial events.
The situation is particularly irksome for some City Park neighbors because it is the only Denver park classified as a festival site in a primarily residential area.
Looking beyond the specific example of Chive Fest, members of Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) Parks Committee say holding a raucous concert into City Park emphasizes the need to seriously consider a permanent festival events site with established infrastructure.
Where does the money go?
City Council approved the commercial park events policy in 2010, following more than three years of sometimes-rancorous task force deliberations.
The commercial activities, known as “Admission Based Events” (ABEs) were initially debated by a 24-member task force consisting of city personnel, event promoters, and seven “neighborhood” representatives.
Approval of the policy was based in part on then-Mayor Hickenlooper staffer Chantal Unfug’s projected revenue of $500,000 per year.
“The policy was to be revisited after one year but it remained in place and everyone on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board seems to have forgotten this pledge,” observes INC President Larry Ambrose.
“Part of the promise to the neighborhoods from the city was that all the money from Admission Based Events would go directly to the park in which the event takes place. We claimed this was a false promise, (because) as based on the City Charter, all earned income must go into the General Fund. No accounting has been provided as to how much money has been generated from Admission Based Events over the past four years, what expenses were associated with them, or how the money has been spent.”
The other “festival” Admission Based Event parks are Civic Center, Confluence, Skyline, Central Park (Stapleton), Parkfield (Montbello area), and Ruby Hill. Washington Park and Cheesman Park were never considered because Council members and nearby residents argued for protection. While there are residences in the vicinity of some of the other festival parks, they do not have the concentrated residential density on three sides as City Park does.
Just prior to policy adoption, former Councilwoman Paula Sandoval asked that Sloan’s Lake Park be removed from the list, and it was. Ruby Hill was a late addition at the request of Councilman Chris Nevitt. He envisioned a performance pavilion in the park and later advocated for the sale of alcoholic beverages. While the impact at Ruby Hill remains to be seen, residents of Stapleton already complain of disruption from special events at Central Park.
The price for living near a park
During the policy debate, former Mayor John Hickenlooper said “Putting up with disruption is the price people have to pay for living near a park.”
However, some Denverites criticize the notion of turning parks into commercial venues at all.
In 2011, the INC Parks Committee spent several months preparing a “Platform for Denver’s Urban Parks.” The document was meant as a guiding principle for the future and to provide information for voters. The platform calls for development of more urban green space, rejects the policy allowing commercial events, and calls for development of a festival facility.
For the most recent City Park festival, neighborhood representatives, including many from Park Hill, successfully demanded stricter plans for parking, traffic, noise, and trash. Even so, there were numerous reports of high noise levels, especially in South City Park Neighborhood. There were also complaints about public urination and vulgar language.
Proximity to zoo animals
In City Park, there is also concern about the impact of amplified sound on captive zoo animals, especially in proximity to the concert area.
In 2007, when Chuck Morris of Anschutz Entertainment suggested a three-day Mile High Music Festival in the western two-thirds of City Park, he said he would not go forward if there were suspected problems with the animals. The zoo director at the time, Craig Piper, followed American Zoological Association guidelines that animals must be protected. Morris ultimately moved the music festival to an athletic field in Commerce City.
This year, the zoo’s public relations director, Tiffany Barnhart, issued a lengthy statement saying the event organizers and the zoo would be sure the animals were protected.
Full disclosure: Readers of this newspaper and most city officials know that I was an early and outspoken opponent of the Admission Based Events policy. For over three years, I was a neighborhood representative on the main task force, and also a member of the fees subcommittee with former Councilwoman Carla Madison and Chuck Morris. I frequently argued against the policy at meetings of the Advisory Board. I continue to hold the position that parks are for people, not profit. And I am a strong proponent of a permanent outdoor festival performance facility.
Dave Felice is an At-Large Member and Parks Chair of the Greater Park Hill Board of Directors.
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