Paid Events for Parks Approved by Parks Board

After three years of planning and intense public debate, the
Department of Park & Recreation’s Advisory Board approved an Admission-
Based Events Policy on August 12 by a vote of ten to seven. (This
story is by Arthur Rosenblum, published in the Greater Park Hill

The vote represented a non-binding recommendation to Parks
Manager Kevin Patterson, who has spoken in favor of such a policy and
whose staff has advocated for adoption of the policy.

The policy which will go into effect in 2011 allows the parks
department to issue permits to hold paid, private events in eight of
Denver’s parks, including City Park, where festivals and special
events are permitted.

Discussions about this policy began three years ago when AEG
proposed a two-day music festival in City Park that would potentially
draw 75,000. There was strong opposition to the proposal which was
dropped only after Denver Zoo officials expressed concern about the
safety of animals exposed to loud noise for long periods.

The City formed a task force consisting of event planners, city
officials and community members to draft a policy. Opponents to the
plan have been crying foul about the composition and procedures of the
task force which approved a policy almost two years ago.

The policy will allow for the permitting of events that can be
held a maximum of four days per 30-day period at each site, with no
two paid events occurring at the same time in the same park. The
maximum attendance permitted will be 7,500 people at any one event,
“rest periods” are built into the policy to minimize impacts on the
parks, alcohol will be permitted at the events, which may not occupy
more than 20 percent of a park’s area. Permit fees will be charged and
the parks are authorized to apply the city’s 10 percent seat tax.
Parks staff projects that the City could realize up to $500,000 a year
which would go to the parks department.

The August 12 vote followed a spirited, one hour public hearing
in which opponents to the plan, in both eloquent and vulgar terms,
repeated their long-standing objections. From the outset of the
planning process and at this hearing numerous opponents to the policy
claimed that Denver’s City Charter specifically limits uses of the
parks to the public use and that leasing of park land is prohibited
without a vote of the people. Proponents of the policy cite the Denver
City Attorney’s legal opinion that paid events are legal under the
Charter. Opponents have asked for a ballot referendum on the issue.
One board member, Scott Gilmore, Councilman Michael Hancock’s
representative on the parks board, sought an amendment calling for
such a referendum, but it was not approved by the board.

The most frequently made objection to the policy is that parks
are intended for the public’s use and that they should always be free
and open. Most of the board members who voted against the policy did
so for this reason. Darrel Watson, Councilman Linkhart’s
representative on the board who facilitated the meeting, told a
poignant story of growing up very poor in the Virgin Islands when his
family’s only opportunity to vacation was to take a free ferry to St.
Johns and spend time at a free park.

Opponents also argued for the city to build a designated festival
park where paid events could be held (similar to Red Rocks), leaving
the other parks free at all times. One speaker described the $500,000
in potential revenues “a mere pittance” compared to the costs that
might be incurred.

Several opponents said the four-event per month limitation, in
fact, would allow for paid events in the same park every weekend.
Parks manager Patterson described what would be the department’s
priorities for issuing permits. First priority would be for events
that have traditionally been held in the parks, like City Park Jazz.
Second would be events for non-profit organizations, and the last
priority would be paid events for private entities.

The vast majority of speakers at the hearing were opposed to the
policy, but among the few who spoke in favor of it, the argument was
advanced that holding paid events or fundraisers provides an important
opportunity for nonprofit organizations to raise much needed revenues
that would fund programming that meets a wide range of community

Other opponents sounded alarms about increased alcohol use in the
parks, impacts on wildlife, increased traffic and parking problems,
the relative shortage of park space in Denver that would be reduced by
paid events, and a decline in property values.

Proponents of the policy, both among the speakers and the board
members, talked of the paid events providing new opportunities to
bring people to the parks and adding to the many and varied uses of
the parks.

Following the public hearing, board members weighed-in with their
views and were frequently interrupted by members of the audience. This
was a rare display at public hearings and clearly angered some board
members. One board member’s reference to the city attorney’s opinion
was met by an outcry of “He’s a liar, he’s a liar, he’s a liar.”
Another women repeatedly rose and yelled at the board to listen to the
people in the audience. Attempts by opponents to quiet her were

The board finally did vote to recommend the policy, after adding
an amendment calling for a one-year review to study its impacts on the

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