Denver Direct: An Open Letter to Denver’s City Council in re: Events Fees

Monday, January 3, 2011

An Open Letter to Denver’s City Council in re: Events Fees

From:  Dave Felice
Copy To:  City Council, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board
Subject:  Events Fees Ordinance
Dear Council Members: 

Since you are my elected City Council representatives, I urge you to table the Admission Based Events Fee Ordinance coming before Council for final reading on January 3.  I ask that you send this measure to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board where it should have been first reviewed and approved, modified, or rejected prior to it being sent to Council.
You should have grave concerns about timing and transparency of the procedure to approve this fee structure by the Parks Department, during the holiday season, without the benefit of review by the this Advisory Board or opportunity for public comment.  By rushing this fee proposal to City Council, Parks and Recreation has essentially prevented Parks and Recreation Advisory Board members from doing the job for which they were appointed. 
I was an active member of the Fee Committee of the Admission Based Special Events (ABSEP) Task Force.  Only briefly did we discuss the idea of charging a percentage of revenues for these events.  The committee discarded the idea because it became evident that other non-admission based events would also be vulnerable to such charges for use the of Denver’s parks.  The simple percentage fee idea was generated after the Task Force and its public hearing processes, exclusively within the administration of the Parks Department, clearly without foresight or the benefit of public discussion. 
Council members run the risk of a serious negative reaction from some of Denver’s largest non-profit organizations because of this particular feature of this precedent setting ordinance.  Never before has a fee structure been implemented by Denver Parks and Recreation which charges a percentage of the revenue from an event.  This will have ominous implications for some of the largest revenue producing activities, such as pet events, walks, and runs in Denver parks.  None of these implications have been explored or examined before Council Committee or the Advisory Board. 
In support of the approval of Admission Based Events, Senior Policy Advisor Chantal Unfug made misleading unequivocal public statements on the record last fall.  You and the public should be aware that Ms Unfug informed the Advisory Board that a cost/benefit analysis had been performed for admission based events and the Board was presented with projected revenue figures.  However, it has been learned through an Open Records request that NO such financial analysis was done.  Revenue figures presented were not based on research of other cities as she claimed, but rather on pure speculation. 
This fee structure proposal should be supported by facts and revenue projections based on real research from other cities nationally and even here in the Denver metro area. 
There is another implication which has not been considered by this Council or the current administration of the Parks Department. Comparisons between the actual cost of using a Denver park as a venue for an admission based event versus similar private venues have not been presented.  This is not only important in terms of fiscal responsibility, but also because if rates for Denver parks are set low, the City of Denver will find itself in an unenviable position of providing unfair competition to private sector venues in Denver and the metro area.  Surely, government is not in business to compete with its taxpaying businesses. 
In light of these considerations and Council’s commitment to a fair, transparent and democratic process, a full and public review of this fee proposal by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board is in order.
Thank you.
Dave Felice