By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Parks officials will take a mixed-bag of public comments to city officials this morning concerning a proposal to allow admissions-based events in several of the city’s parks.
The comments come from a spirited Denver Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting held Thursday evening at the La Alma Recreation Center. Comments are divided between people who believe parks are for the public and therefore should remain free and open to the public at all times, and those who believe an admissions-based policy would be a good way to activate the city’s parks.
The advisory board has 45 days to vote on a recommendation for city officials. A vote is expected in February.
Supporters point out that more than 60 major cities across the nation have an admissions-based events policy.
The proposal identifies 10 parks, four facilities and five special occasion sites to be considered for admissions-based events. The parks have been the most controversial, including City Park, Civic Center Park, Confluence Park, Denver Performing Art Sculpture Park, Skyline Park, Sloan’s Lake Park, Central Park — Stapleton, Parkfield Park, Ruby Hill Park and Lowry Great Lawn.
Under the proposal, a party or organization would only be allowed to obtain an admissions-based permit once every 30 days. Also, only once every 15 days would an admissions-based event be allowed to take place in any one park.
The draft also calls for 80 percent of the park to remain free and open to the public when an admissions-based event is taking place.
Controversy started in 2007
The controversy began in 2007 after local AEG Live concert promoter Chuck Morris attempted to hold his two-day Mile High Music Festival in City Park. Concerns were immediately raised over noise disturbing nearby zoo animals, traffic interfering with neighbors and residents being unable to access their free and open public park. The festival was soon moved to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.
A task force was then convened — including citizens — which examined fees, site plans, locations and policies.
Those on the opposing side believe parks are meant to remain free and open to the public at all times. They point to the City Charter, which the group says prohibits any admissions-based events at city parks without a vote of the people.
Former City Councilwoman Cathy Donahue read a sentence from the City Charter, which she believes proves the point.
“The sale and leasing of parks without the approval of a majority of those registered electors voting in an election held by the City and County of Denver, no park or portion of any park belonging to the city, as of Dec. 31st 1955, shall be sold or leased at any time,” Donahue said the City Charter states.
“If you as a body want to suggest to the City Council, or to the elector that we should vote on whether or not to lease part of our parks, you are certainly welcome to do that. But it is not your prerogative to decide what the electors of this city are to decide,” continued Donahue to a room full of applause.
A candid Morris took to the microphone where he bounced back and forth between being in support of an admissions-based policy and wanting to leave the decision up to voters. His wavering opinion came as a surprise to opponents of the proposal, who pointed out that Morris was the impetus for the proposal in the first place.
But the iconic concert promoter said he is torn between activating parks to raise money for the city, and leaving them free and open to the public at all times.
“We’re having a very tough time in this city É we all know the limitation financially of what’s going on with the city, so I have a lot of sympathy for the people on the board and the committee É But I don’t want to interfere with the beauty of our parks, I love our parks,” said Morris. “But I do think that what they came up with É I can’t argue with that, I really think that it’s the way to go.”
“But I do want to insist that if this is against City Charter, I will be opposed to it,” he continued.
The City Attorney’s office says an admissions-based policy would not require a vote of the people.
“The manager of Parks and Recreation has authority to grant permits to private individuals and groups to conduct events in city parks, and does so all the time,” David Broadwell, assistant city attorney, told the Denver Daily News in an e-mail. “The Denver Charter does not require a vote of the people every time the manager grants a permit for an event in a park. The fact that a fee or admission price may be charged to participate in an event in a park does not change the analysis. The admission-based event policy under discussion by the city complies with the city charter.”
Great way to activate parks?
Curtis Park resident John Hayden said he is supporting the proposal because he believes it would be an excellent way to activate many of the city’s parks.
“I would like to see the parks in my city used and enjoyed and as beautiful as they can be, and what I expect as a citizen is that my parks and rec department would be managing that resource in a way that would optimize the use and the beauty of the parks, and to me admissions-based events could be a way to raise additional funds to continue to make our parks a beautiful place and an active place,” said Hayden to jeers from opponents.
Donahue pointed out, however, that the money generated from the policy would need to go back into the general fund, which means it would not be earmarked for parks, according to her interpretation of the City Charter.
Meanwhile, Councilman Chris Nevitt said he is in support of the proposal as a means to activate his community’s Ruby Hill Park. Nevitt is actually calling for a less restrictive policy by lowering the number of days organizers would need to wait to obtain a second permit within a period of time. He also believes a park should be allowed to host an admissions-based event every other week, not every 15 days.
But Dave Felice, who for many months has been leading the charge against the policy, said the issue is about free and open parks, and any policy that would compromise that is not a policy the city should adopt.
“It is my mission to oppose fee-based events in city parks,” said Felice. “The parks are to be open and free to the public at all times.”
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters