by Dave Felice
A City Council candidate welcomes the possibility of an admissions based festival park along the Platte Valley, and a member of the Parks advisory Board offers a qualified endorsement of the prospect.
For years, Larry Ambrose, a candidate in the District One special election, has suggested creating a full-time festival park at the Elitch Gardens site or some other location for fee-based events.
Now, Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) Planning Director Gordon Robertson concurs with Ambrose, publicly saying: “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.”
Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) member Mary Ewing likes the notion. “I think it is a good idea for Parks and Rec to acquire the Elitch's site for a large event park,” Ewing told Denver Direct. “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be used for paid admission events, but only if the current proposal to use existing parks for paid admission events is withdrawn.”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.
Ambrose, a member of the Admissions Based Special Events Policy (ABSEP) Task Force, and co-chair of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperative Parks Committee, is deeply concerned with the negative impact on parks and the conflict between the Denver City Charter and a commercial events policy.
Robertson adds: “This is VERY preliminary in concept since Elitch’s hasn’t said they are moving. 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.”
Robertson mentioned the possibility of a festival park in his presentation on “The South Platte River Greenway Master Plan” at the April meeting of the Parks Advisory Board. The “RISO RINO River Vision” presentation is posted under “Agendas and Minutes” on the Advisory Board web site (pdf).
Denver Parks and Recreation is developing the Master Plan in cooperation with Jeff Shoemaker’s Greenway Foundation.
Ambrose believes his idea of a festival park where both fee-based and free events can take place and grow 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 says.
Some members of the Task Force have suggested the Elitch Gardens location would provide festival grounds similar in size and amenities to the successful 75-acre Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee.
In a Denver Post Op-Ed column in February, environmental affairs writer Joanne Ditmer underscored concern and supported the idea of an admissions based park: “At a Feb. 11 meeting of the department's advisory board, 10 representatives of 80-plus (registered) neighborhood groups repeatedly pointed out that the Denver City Charter would not permit closing off part of any park to benefit private for-profit businesses. The charter states that no park nor portion of any Denver park shall be sold or leased at any time, without the approval of a majority of those registered electors in a special election.”
Ditmer continued: “A centrally located park with easy access, planned for large groups, could be useful. Elitch Gardens might be a possibility. Last July, The Post ran an article on that amusement park'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. Developer’s must yearn to acquire the park’s 67 acres.”
Ambrose says there’s “resonance” in his position on a festival park. “I will continue to advocate for our parks and seek out sensible solutions and creative ideas to achieve our successful common goals,” he says.
Parks and Recreation Manager Kevin Patterson is moving forward with development of an admissions based policy and intends to implement the policy under the department’s rule-making authority.
“As per RMC (Revised Municipal Code) Section 39-2, the Department will follow the proposal to finalize the policy and will post the notice for a public hearing. The Board has 45 days from the receipt of the proposed rule to make a recommendation to the Manager,” says Patterson. “After the public hearing, the Manager of Parks and Recreation may make changes in the text of the proposed rule or proposed amendment prior to, during, or as a result of the hearing and can adopt the final policy.”
The PRAB member from District 11 in northeast Denver, Scott Gilmore, says he intends to press for a public vote on the admissions based events policy.
Patterson says there are several ways for people to comment on developments at Denver Parks and Recreation: call 3-1-1; e-mail to email@example.com; e-mail to the Advisory Board, here, ; or use the green “Public Comments” link here.
Mail:Denver Parks and Recreation, Department 602, 201 West Colfax Avenue, Denver CO 80202. Senior Policy Advisor Chantal Unfug’s direct phone number is 720-913-0670. Robertson’s phone number is 720-913-0615.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meets on the second Thursday of each month at the Webb Building. Meetings usually begin at 5:30 and attendees must pass through security screening.