Friday, May 9, 2008

Neighborhood Advocates Question Park Liquor Policy

Larry Ambrose comments at the hearing.

By Dave Felice

Members of the Parks Advisory Board express concern that the general public perceives a change in the parks’ alcohol policy as a precursor to exclusive commercial events.

During the regular meeting following the hearing Thursday, Parks Administrative Manager Fred Weiss repeated his previous public statement that changing the alcohol policy is “separate issue” from admission based special events. But he did acknowledge that policy to allow selling and serving alcoholic beverages commercially in parks “does remove one of many obstacles” to staging events for which admission is charged.

Joe Mauro of Whittier neighborhood, contended the alcohol policy changes are “specifically designed to work with proposals to commercialize parks.” Mauro also questioned the already limited resources of Denver Police to provide effective law enforcement during events where alcohol is sold and served.

“I cannot in my wildest dreams imagine how the Parks Department will police the sale of alcoholic beverages (during commercial events),” said former city councilwoman Cathy Donohue of Cheesman neighborhood. “We have very difficult social problems with alcohol in the parks already.”

Donohue said she’s “appalled” that the issue of selling and serving alcoholic beverages in parks is even being brought up again after selling and serving was initially allowed last year. “I personally disagreed with the city attorney many times when I was working in city government, and this is another one of those times,” said Donohue. “This is a charter issue. Our parks are not for sale. We are opening a door that does not need to be opened.”
Donohue represented District 10 for nearly two decades before the advent of term limits.

John Hayden, a resident of Councilwoman Carla Madison’s District 8, spoke in favor of the proposal which would expand the locations where liquor could be sold and served. The proposed changes also require event organizers, both nonprofit and commercial, to hold “a liquor license from the appropriate governmental agency.”

“It makes me sad that parks are under-used and I am told there aren’t enough funds,” said Hayden. “It seems revenue from alcohol sales can help promote development (and) I expect responsible management of parks.”

Patty Paul of Park Hill expressed concern about the “privatization” of parks, noting that events would result in the closure of large areas. “This would be a violation of the intended purpose of (public) parks” she said.

Representing both Sloan’s Neighborhood and the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) association, Larry Ambrose said selling and serving alcoholic beverages “needs to be treated with caution, care, and consideration.” If commercial entities want the privilege of selling and serving alcohol in the parks, Ambrose says the city needs to go back to the legislature for a proper revision of liquor laws.

“It’s a questionable issue at best and this policy is not really needed,” said Ambrose. “In addition, expanded sales would require a tremendous amount of energy for citizen advocates to monitor these (commercial) events.”

Karen Cuthbertson of INC said requests for commercial events are not valid and “proper land use takes priority over revenue generation.”

Echoing other complaints, Councilwoman Jeanne Robb said Parks and Recreation needs to do a better job of notifying Denver residents of changes. Even though Parks Manager Kim Bailey contends the department followed the letter of the law, the alcohol policy was not discussed at the INC meeting on April 12 and the admission policy task force was not notified.

The hearing notice was published in the Denver Daily Journal legal publication and erroneous information was posted on the Parks Department web site. As a result of the outcry over lack of notification, the city council’s Public Amenities Committee got Parks to agree to extend the public comment period to May 23.

Denver’s Director of Excise and Licenses Awilda Marquez explained that nonprofit organizations would still be able to use the Special Permits Liquor License as they have in the past. Commercial event operators would be required to obtain either a Tavern License or one of the other business use licenses.

According to Marquez, state law covering Tavern Licenses requires “possession” of defined premises, but, in her interpretation, does not specify “four walls and a roof.”

Marquez says commercial license applicants would be thoroughly investigated before a license was issued. She says her department has the authority to require a public hearing and determine the requirements for the hearing. For example, the law requires neighbors within 200 feet of the site of an application to be notified. If the proposed sales site were within one of the larger parks, the 200 foot limit would not extend to adjacent neighborhoods.

Marquez says nonprofit agencies do not go through the same scrutiny.

At one point, Denver resident Joe Henderson interrupted the meeting with a boisterous condemnation of alcohol abuse. Meeting Chairperson Heidi Loshbaugh stood up, confronted Henderson, and repeatedly asked him to be silent and leave the room. Under his breath, Assistant Manager of Parks Scott Robson used an unflattering anatomical reference to describe Henderson.

Outgoing Parks Manager Kim Bailey also said commercialization already occurs during events in parks, citing examples such as signage and uniforms. Bailey asked the Advisory Board to “help dispel the myth” that there would be a proliferation of commercial events.

Weiss said the Parks Department does not allow multiple events that would severely damage park lands and noted “there hasn’t been an overwhelming demand for commercial events.” He also clarified the rules about “Special Occasion Events,” where attendees are present by invitation only. Park lands or facilities are not actually closed to the public during these events, said Weiss.

The question of commercially selling and serving alcohol in parks was raised when Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) proposed closing the western two-thirds of City Park for a two-day music festival. When the nearby Denver Zoo and area residents objected, the festival was moved to Commerce City.

The Parks Advisory Board plans to make its recommendation on the liquor policy revision by Tuesday, May 13. The Parks Department intends to use its “rules and regulations” authority to implement whatever decision is made.

District 8 Councilwoman Carla Madison, a member of the Public Amenities Committee, was the only representative of City Council at the hearing and meeting. There were no broadcast or print reporters attending, but the hearing portion was videotaped for later broadcast on Denver’s public access television on cable Channel 8.

For additional information on prudent park policy and the liquor proposal, see

Parks Administrative Manager Fred Weiss (with tie) hears comments on alcohol policy changes.


  1. Anonymous3:27 PM

    From Rory Seeber, Editor, Life on Capitol Hill newspaper:

    -----Original Message-----

    Sent: Sun, 11 May 2008 1:42 pm
    Subject: Re: Parks Liquor Hearing


    My reporter was there.