Friday, October 14, 2011
Editor’s note: Our parks; available for rent to money-makers but not to the people for protests.
By Dave Felice
Despite a significant lack of interest by event organizers, Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) is keeping its policy of allowing private commercial operators to close parts of parks and charge admission to events. Opponents call for the policy to be rescinded under the administration of Mayor Michael B. Hancock.
What was to be a first-year policy evaluation by Parks Finance Director Fred Weiss turned out to be a few brief comments by Interim Parks Manager Dody Erickson. At a meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, Erickson acknowledged there had been no requests for commercial events during the initial year of the policy.
Erickson says the Parks staff doesn’t know why no commercial operators applied for permits. She says there may not have been enough time to plan events, the fees may be too high, or the event criteria might be too restrictive. Proponents of the policy had claimed there was great demand for closed commercial events and the city would reap significant revenue from such events. If there are no requests after the current commercial permitting period begins in December, “we will try to determine the reasons,” says Erickson.
She did not mention if event organizers might have inquired about permits. Members of the advisory board did not ask for such specific information.
Critics of the policy say what they term “selling the parks” has not resulted in the anticipated income to the city. Opponents also contend that commercial use of parks is unlawful under City Charter.
According to Erickson, the “Big Air” show jumping event in Civic Center Park last January was “a contract, not a (park) permit.” The event, which resulted in the closure of a large portion of Civic Center Park, “seemed like an admission based event, but in reality it was not.” Plans last year to close Civic Center Park for outdoor movies were withdrawn when organizers said they couldn’t get financial support.
Erickson also says she has heard nothing specific about the policy recently from Mayor Michael B. Hancock. During his time as a City Councilman and during the mayoral campaign, Hancock was known to be supportive of allowing closed commercial events in parks. In public comments to the advisory board, Congress Park resident Steve Lang said admission based events contradict Hancock’s statement about how the new park leadership team “believes in providing equal, quality services to every resident.”
Hancock has just appointed Lauri Dannemiller to head the Parks Department. Dannemiller, who has an advanced degree in Recreation Administration, comes to the post after being City Council Director for the past six years.
Advisory Board President Darrell Watson says the board “no longer has jurisdiction over this policy since it was approved by City Council.” Watson asks the Parks staff to provide a forecast about planned commercial events “so we can determine what impact might be anticipated.”
Former Parks Manager Chantal Unfug pushed through the controversial admission based events policy just over a year ago when she was Special Policy Advisor to Parks Manager Kevin Patterson. Adoption of the policy followed a years-long, sometimes rancorous, deliberation process dominated by city officials and event promoters. Numerous Registered Neighborhood Organizations (RNOs) and the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) group had adopted resolutions opposing the policy.
Park advocates suggest that if demand is strong enough, the city could develop a full-time year-round concert and festival venue.
Full information on opposition to the policy and the deliberation process is at: www.SaveCityPark.org. Additional information is posted at: www.ParksAreForPeople.org.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board normally meets at 5:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month, on the 4th Floor of the Wellington Webb City Office Building, Court and Colfax. A list of board members is posted at http://www.denvergov.org/parksandrecreation/ContactUs/AdvisoryBoard/tabid/430499/Default.aspx, along with meeting minutes and agenda.
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