Festival Park Alternative to Admission-based Events

Neighborhood activist and former city council candidate in west
Denver Larry Ambrose first suggested a permanent festival park when a
city task force began formulating a policy on closing portions of
parks for commercial events. Other neighborhood representatives and
Ambrose envision something similar to the highly successful 75-acre
Henry J. Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee.

Ambrose, a member of the Admissions Based Special Events Policy
(ABSEP) Task Force, and co-chair of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation
Parks Committee, is concerned with the negative impact commercial
events would have on parks and the conflict between the City Charter
and a commercial events policy.

Ambrose believes his idea of a festival park for both fee-based
and free events needs to be fully examined. “We must explore a proper
location, including, but not limited to the central Platte Valley, the
current Elitch Gardens Park, the Denver Stock Yards/Coliseum, or a
suitable place close to Downtown Denver. Above all, we must ensure
that our beautiful parks remain open and free as they were intended in
our City Charter,” he said.

A Two-sided Issue

Two supporters of commercial events in Denver parks are skeptical
of the idea of a permanent festival park. “It’s not something I’m too
excited about,” says District 8 Councilwoman Carla Madison. “I think
festivals lose their personality when they are all in the same place.
I also think an event park is fiscally unrealistic at this time.”
Madison, one of very few people in city government familiar with
Milwaukee’s Maier Park, has attended the pre-eminent Summerfest in
Milwaukee. Madison also prefers the idea of holding admissions-based
events at various parks rather than in a single location. “I haven’t
really liked the People’s Fair since it moved to Civic Center for the
same reason I don’t like Festival Parks – festivals lose their
personality,” she said.

Madison’s appointee to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board,
Keith Pryor, expresses a similar view. “A park with a single use,
festivals, is not in the best interest of the city. I am concerned
that existing festivals such as Peoples Fair, Pride Fest, the Dragon
Boat Festival and City Park Jazz, may be required to use this festival
park, or may choose to leave their historic locations in existing
parks to add an admission-based component,” Pryor commented. The
events cited here by Madison and Pryor are all free, not-for-profit
activities.

Denver’s chief parks planner, Gordon Robertson, recently
concurred with the festival park idea. “If someday Elitch’s (amusement
park) were to move, the opportunity exists for a huge event center.
This (an admissions-based festival park) is a potential future use
should that land (in the central Platte River Valley) become
available.” said Robertson. He mentioned the festival park in his
presentation at the April meeting of the Parks Advisory Board.

“This is very preliminary in concept since Elitch’s hasn’t said
they are moving,” said Robertson, (placing emphasis on “very.”) The
fact that it (Elitch property) is not in a residential area currently
would allow us a lot of flexibility in what we would do there with
respect to large event planning. The space is certainly big enough to
accommodate just about any design we would want to accomplish.”

In a Denver Post column in February, environmental affairs writer
Joanne Ditmer supported a festival site: “A centrally located park
with easy access, planned for large groups, could be useful. Last
July, The Post ran an article on (Elitch’s) declining attendance and
often-changing ownership, and asked if its time were over. But it’s in
a prime location in the South Platte Valley, offers easy
accessibility, and high-rise housing fills the valley. Developers must
yearn to acquire the park’s 67 acres.”

Commenting on the possible use of a site like Elitch’s for a
festival park, Pryor said, “The concept of a festival park, one that
would hold large scale events is misguided. For the size of Elitch
Gardens, there are very few events that would fill the space. A space
this large that could not be programmed, yet needs to be maintained,
would put a huge burden on limited city resources. I think of the
State Fairgrounds in Pueblo, used for two weeks out of the year and
the rest of the time contributes nothing to the community.” According
to Pryor, a facility could be designed as “both a regional park and
one that can accommodate large festivals, but a park just for festival
use only is not a good approach.”

Pryor went on to say that most admissions-based events would not
be as large as the original proposal from promoter Chuck Morris for
the Mile High Music Festival in City Park. The commercially successful
Mile High Music Festival is in its third year at an athletic field
complex in Commerce City.

Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) member Mary Ewing
likes the festival site notion. “If Elitch’s were acquired for this
purpose, I would support giving it a special designation to allow it
to be used for paid admission events, but only if the current proposal
to use existing parks for paid admission events is withdrawn.” Ewing
represents central Denver’s council District 10 on the PRAB.

Meanwhile, Denver Parks and Recreation Manager Kevin Patterson
intends to develop and implement the controversial admissions-based
policy under the department’s rule-making authority, while City
Councilman Michael Hancock’s appointed PRAB member from District 11 in
northeast Denver, Scott Gilmore, says he intends to demand a public
vote on the admissions-based events policy.

There are several ways for people to comment on admission-based
events and a festival park: call 3-1-1; send an e-mail to
tara.trujillo@denvergov.org; or e-mail the
Advisory Board by going to www.denvergov.org/parksandrecreation/ContactUs
and clicking on Advisory Board. Senior Policy Advisor Chantal Unfug’s
direct phone number is 720-913-0670. Robertson’s phone number is
720-913-0615.

(This story by Dave Felice was originally published in the Greater Park Hill
News, here)

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