Monday, August 9, 2010

Parks are for people, not profit

by Dave Felice

Members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB):

I am a member of the Admission Based Events Task Force that supposedly recommended this policy to this Board. I have been and am unalterably opposed to allowing commercial interests to close parts of Denver public parks and charge admission for events in the parks. There were many of us, mostly neighborhood representatives, who volunteered to serve on this panel that also believed and expressed over and over that without the citizens of Denver being able to vote on this issue, public parks must be free and open to all people.

Although I actively and honestly participated in the process, I could see that developing a policy for admissions based events was flawed from the beginning. We were told from the outset that it was our role to set the parameters of a policy for admission based events in our neighborhood parks, not whether there would be admission based events in our neighborhood parks. It was clear from the beginning that both Parks and Recreation Managers, Kim Bailey who started this process and later, Kevin Patterson and the Mayor's representative to Parks & Recreation, Chantal Unfug, were carrying out the will of Mayor John W. Hickenlooper.

We asked for a cost/benefit analysis. There has been no analysis of costs and benefits. We asked for demand and marketing studies or analysis. There has been virtually no demonstration, and no documentation, of demand for closed commercial events. The Task Force was not privy to, nor did it get to study any of the information later gathered by Chantal Unfug, about the supposed success and prevalence of admission based events in other cities. What we did research and learn on our own was that many other "great" cities have developed centrally located and large festival parks that are built and have the infrastructure for such admission based events. When it became clear that opposition to admission based events in neighborhood parks would keep the Task Force from accomplish the goal of Parks and Recreation staff and the Mayor, they divided the Task Force into smaller groups where neighborhood people were vastly outnumbered by Parks and Recreation staff, City employees, lobbyists and event promoters. Ladies and gentlemen, despite the way this story has been spun, this process was shameful.

Generally, those with self interests such as promoters or non-profit organizations who have a vested interest in admission based events have been supportive of this policy. Commercial enterprises have no prerogative to usurp and appropriate public taxpayer-supported property. It is a fact that most neighborhood and community organizations and many prominent, long time active, civic minded and intelligent citizens, who have studied and care about this issue have expressed overwhelming and strong opposition to this policy.

You, as members of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, should do what is right by considering the history of this policy, by whom and how it has been developed, unknown and unintended consequences on Denver's parks and our existing events and vote with your conscience and your heart. I believe you have an obligation to represent the views of the citizens of Denver and, given the opposition you are hearing tonight and, absent a clear plebiscite from the citizens of Denver, reject this flawed policy and recommend putting this monumental change to vote of the people.

You have this historic opportunity to surprise the community, even possibly yourselves, and exercise the responsible stewardship for which you are appointed. The spirit of the Denver Charter is clear that when it comes to for-profit, commercial use of our public park space, the people should have the right to vote. What harm is there in that? Is that not the highest of our democratic values? Here you have a situation which clearly cries out for democratic resolution. You will be doing Mayor Hickenlooper a favor in advising the Parks Manager to let the people decide, through their fundamental right to vote, matters which are so close to their hearts, that effect their everyday lives, and if they do indeed want their public parks to be for profit.


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