Denver Direct: Parks Policy in the Making

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Parks Policy in the Making

Ferril Lake Fountain at City Park

Dave Felice, who emerged as the “Loyal Opposition” during the discussion of AEG holding a Mile High Music Festival in City Park, has broadened his scope to include the current meetings being held on the overall policy of the City regarding private use of our public parks. This group, called the Admissions-Based Special Events Policy Task Force, has been meeting to formulate a coherent City policy for all of our parks. Here is his report from today’s meeting:

Acknowledging that she is “not comfortable” with the idea of exclusive commercial events in parks, Denver Parks and Recreation Manager Kim Bailey says the city needs a policy to deal with such proposals.

Bailey also says there appears to be little or no interest in development of a genuine permanent festival in Denver.

The Parks and Recreation Manager says developing a policy on commercial closure of park lands was not on her agenda and was generated by a proposal from last summer from the AEG Live concert promotion company. AEG wanted to close the western two-thirds of city for a two-day music and arts festival. Plans were cancelled when the adjacent Denver Zoo objected.

Bailey’s comments follow the latest monthly meeting of the “Admissions-Based Special Events Policy” (ABSEP) Task Force. About 35 people attended the meeting February 13, but representatives of city agencies and event organizers outnumbered neighborhood advocates by about three-to-one.

Neighborhood representatives continue to be skeptical, expressing concern about the adverse impact, such as noise and congestion. Others contend it is inappropriate to block free access to public property.

There are currently seven parks designated as “festival” locations because sales of alcoholic beverages are already permitted. Even so, Bailey says it’s “technically possible” to stage a festival at any other park location as long as alcoholic beverages would not be sold or served.

The seven festival locations are Civic Center, City, Sloan’s Lake, Creekfront, DCPA Sculpture Park, Skyline, and Confluence Parks. Sloan’s Lake resident Larry Ambrose asked about getting his neighborhood park removed from the list. According to Ambrose, City Councilman Rick Garcia doesn’t want such events at Sloan’s Lake Park.

Saying much more work needs to be done, Bailey presented a draft of what a policy might contain. The policy would be designed to govern operation of special events in city parks which would result in closure of sections of the parks and organizers would charge admission. According to Bailey, preparation of the draft showed that “quite a few pieces are already in place” and there just needs to be what she calls “appropriate tweaking” for admission-based special events.

Meeting participants had an extended discussion of what constituted capacity for special events at the proposed locations. Brad Emerick, Fire Protection Engineer for the Denver Fire Department, presented information on “occupant load factors” and requirements for entrances and exits. Task Force members seem close to agreement that capacity is different if event attendees are standing, moving, or sitting.

At one point, there was visible friction between Assistant City Attorney Patrick Wheeler and Ambrose. With a scowl, Wheeler declared “I object” in response to a contention by Ambrose that people should be able to vote on having commercial park events. Wheeler says a popular vote is “not legally required.”

Bailey says Portland, Oregon has a policy on special events which includes an “event coordinator appeal process.” She says her staff will be looking at the Portland practices and present information at the next ABSEP meeting. She suggests not meeting again until April, so smaller groups can investigate various aspects of the proposed policy.

Although there were initial reports that Parks and Recreation wanted a policy by June, Bailey emphatically says “there is no deadline.”

“There is absolutely an opportunity for continued conversation,” she notes. “My goal is to be comfortable with the (ABSEP) proposal before we take the final draft to the general public.”

Prior to the next formal meeting, Bailey says Parks and Recreation will be looking at the infrastructure installation and removal practices for concerts held in cities such as Austin, Chicago, and Atlanta.

Although Cheesman Park is not a location where alcoholic beverages can be served, some participants mentioned that people attending smaller events at Cheesman sometimes bring wine and beer. Parks representative Stu Bader admits, “It happens,” but such practice is technically illegal.

According to Bailey, Parks and Recreation has “internal guidelines” on what might be considered objectionable during a festival event. One requirement is that no permanent signage is allowed. Promotion of firearms, tobacco, or alcoholic beverages is not permitted. In response to a question, Bailey admitted, however, that if nudists presented a proposal for a park event, they would be considered.

Parks Marketing Manager Jill McGranahan acknowledges the policy is an effort to “look at alternative ways to offset the cost” of running the parks. She contends that current non-profit events effectively result in closure of sections of parks.

Bailey also emphasizes that Parks is not responsible for regulating alcoholic beverage sales. “(Organizers) have to follow (city) Excise and License rules,” she says. “It is the organizers’ hurdle to work with (beverage sales) regulators.”

While some neighborhood representatives continue to suggest the city develop a specific site for commercial events, Bailey says “I doubt Elitch’s is moving” and notes that a festival park has not been considered as new neighborhoods and city facilities were built in recent years.

“We are not pushing this (policy),” says Bailey. “When the (AEG) proposal was presented, it was a time to reconsider and rethink our policy.” The Parks and Recreation Manager also admits there are no current commercial festival proposals.

Story by: Dave Felice

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