Controversy over OpenAir Cinema

(This article is from the Denver Daily News)

OpenAir suffocating to community?
Despite attempt by producers of outdoor film festival to calm
concerns, some residents still concerned

Citizen concern over a planned month-long admissions-based
outdoor film festival next summer in City Park has inspired the
Massachusetts-based festival organizer to address the controversy.

US OpenAir released a four-page document addressing concerns
within the community, including how the 1,800-seat movie theater would
impact local neighborhoods. Residents are concerned about closing a
portion of City Park for the admissions-based event. Parks advocates
believe city parks should be open and free to the public.

Concerns have also been raised by neighborhood groups over noise,
traffic and the distribution of alcohol, to name a few.

US OpenAir producers Julie Frahm and Rob Bryant acknowledge the
concerns in a letter to residents.
“With any new event, concerns can arise within the community about how
the event will impact local neighborhoods,” the producers write. “In
the normal course of things, some of these will be legitimate and some
unfounded.”

“As the producers of US OpenAir, we recognize to create an event
that truly celebrates and improves Denver lifestyle, we need to
address the legitimate concerns and put to rest the unfounded,”
continued Frahm and Bryant.

The festival is proposed to take place in the meadows area of
City Park for a month in the summer of 2011. The contract with the
city — approved by the Denver City Council in January — is for 2011
and 2012. OpenAir was originally intended to launch this summer in
Civic Center Park in concert with the city’s inaugural Biennial of the
Americas, an international cultural event scheduled to launch July 1
in Denver. In February, however, U.S. OpenAir, LLC announced that it
was unable to meet self-imposed and necessary city deadlines to get
the film celebration off the ground at Civic Center Park by July.

Citizens opposed to having the admissions-based event —
especially in City Park where it would be nestled around dense
neighborhoods — did not seem impressed by the communication released
by OpenAir producers.

Despite the document addressing issues such as undermining
enjoyment of the park; spoiling views; noise; and congestion —
citizens remain concerned.

An open letter from neighborhood group officials — including
Larry Ambrose and Katie Fisher, co-chairs of the Inter-Neighborhood
Cooperation Parks and Recreation Committee — alleges that OpenAir’s
communication is “deceptive” and contains “exaggeration.” They say the
agreement with the city is based on an “unlawful premise that violates
City Charter prohibitions on leasing public parks.”

The letter also addresses concern about serving alcohol at the
event and hosting people from outside the area’s nearby neighborhoods.

“Will US OpenAir acknowledge that it is human nature for people
to behave badly when attending a destination event?” asks the open
letter, which goes on to cite references made in the official OpenAir
communication. “Or will US OpenAir make the argument that the company
is not responsible for noise, trash, and disruption which occurs ‘in
the parking lot or on the street.’”

The letter from neighborhood group officials also addresses
concerns about “intrusion into the park;” discrepancies in allowed
decibel levels; parking problems due to congestion as crowds overlap
because of attendance at the nearby Museum of Nature and Science and
Denver Zoo; use of public transportation; impact on wild birds and
animals; and competitive impact on nearby movie houses and
restaurants.

Fueling much of the debate, however, is the issue of allowing
admissions-based events at public parks.
“Closing even part of a park for commercial purposes is
discriminatory,” states the letter. “Removing park land from public
use poses a particular hardship on those who depend on parks as a
place of recreation and solace and who are least likely to be able to
afford an admission fee for an event. Does US OpenAir condone
discrimination and usurpation of public property?”

Critics also believe the city will generate limited revenue from
the event and create few local jobs.

City parks officials, however, support the event as a way to
activate city parks. They point out that only a portion of City Park
would be used for the festival, leaving most of the park open to the
general public. The city would also charge a seat tax for the event,
with money generated being pumped back into parks and the general
fund, Jill McGranahan, spokeswoman for Denver Parks and Recreation,
has told the Denver Daily News.

Denver has been chosen by OpenAir to be the first American host
city for the “cinema and lifestyle experience,” which includes both
film and local food and wine pairings. Tickets will cost as much as
$20.

In addition to recent releases, the festival will also include
short films by the Denver Film Society, as well as classic films and
documentaries. Films are shown on a giant screen hydraulically raised
to stand three stories high with a 32-speaker surround sound system,
according to OpenAir’s Web Site.

The project has had great success in other countries, and
organizers are hoping to find the same success in America.

Denver was chosen as the inaugural American city because of its
“favorable climate,” nearby entertainment and large downtown
workforce, according to producers.

Concerns or questions about the festival can be directed to
in…@usopenair.com.

By Peter Marcus, Denver Daily News Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 1, 2010

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