By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
City parks officials on Friday submitted the finalized version of a new controversial admissions-based events policy for Denver parks.
Parks and Recreation Manager Kevin Patterson said the new permitting process does not equate to selling or leasing public park land, but instead creates a permitting process no different than for a picnic site.
“While there has been a great deal of conversation about sale or leasing of park land, I want to be clear that this is neither of those instruments. This is a permit,” Patterson wrote in a letter to the Denver Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. “It grants exclusive authority to an entity to use the space for a period of time, like a picnic site. A permit is simply to make sure there are no added conflicts for the use of the space from other people or entities who may want to schedule an event, whether it is a family reunion, wedding, or an admission-based event.”
The Denver Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in August voted 10-7 to adopt the new policy. Patterson submitted the finalized policy to the Office of the Clerk and Recorder on Friday.
The policy identifies seven city parks where admissions-based events can be held, but Patterson said his department will only accept applications for Civic Center, Confluence, Skyline, Ruby Hill, Parkfield, and Stapleton Central parks for the 2011 season. All event facilities and special occasion sites for Confluence, Skyline and Centennial are on the table as well.
The other park identified in the policy is City Park, but Patterson said the park won’t be considered in 2011.
There was confusion on Friday as to whether Sloan’s Lake, which was originally in the policy, was completely removed from the policy, per the request of Councilwoman Paula Sandoval. Sandoval said the park was completely removed from the policy, but a spokeswoman for Parks and Recreation said the city will re-evaluate whether to include the park under the admissions-based policy for 2012.
“Although (Sloan’s Lake) is being removed for this year, it is being reassessed for permanent removal,” said parks spokeswoman Jill McGranahan.
Sandoval, however, suggested to constituents on Friday that Patterson agreed to remove the park completely.
“Although some of you may not be pleased with the news, I feel the overwhelming majority of District 1 residents will be happy to learn that this is the case,” Sandoval wrote to constituents.
Other special occasion sites include City Park Meadow and Flower Garden. The other event facilities include Molkery, Chief Hosa, the Washington Park Boat House and a facility at Stapleton Central Park.
The original policy called for a limit of 10,000 patrons per event, but that was restricted down to 7,500 in the final version.
Fees have not yet been established, but a proposal is expected to reach the City Council this fall, said Patterson. City officials have estimated that the city could gain as much as $500,000 per year as a result of the new policy. Parks and Recreation will benefit directly from a so-called “seat tax” attached to the events, which the department has maintained will directly benefit public lands and spaces.
Under the policy, a party or organization will only be allowed to obtain an admissions-based permit once every 30 days. Also, only once every 15 days will an admissions-based event be allowed to take place in any one park.
The policy also guarantees that 80 percent of the park will remain free and open to the public when an admissions-based event is taking place. Patterson said the final policy makes admissions-based events the lowest priority after all of the other permitting categories have picked dates and times in the November permitting process.
Patterson has recommended that a review of the policy with the Advisory Board be held in October 2011.
Critics have maintained all along — during the nearly four-year process — that opening public parks to ticketed events violates the principle that parks are for the public and therefore should remain free and open to the public at all times.
The controversy intensified 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.
Opponents say the City Charter prohibits any admissions-based events at city parks without a vote of the people. The City Attorney’s office has said an admissions-based policy does not require a vote of the people.
Dave Felice, who has led the charge against the admissions-based policy through the group Parks Are For People, wrote to his followers in a recent e-mail that they never had a chance against city officials who supported the policy all along.
“Whenever they got a chance, the people spoke out against it, and it didn’t matter,” wrote Felice.