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May 2015 • Online Edition

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SEAP Seeks Sane Special Events Policy | Print |  E-mail

by Paul Kashmann

As springtime approaches and we become increasingly able to break the cabin fever chains that have kept us indoors through winter’s cold, all manner of outdoor activities begin to take up space on the family calendar.

Street fairs, farmers markets, outdoor music and film, races, runs, walks and major festivals beg our attention, our time and some degree of financial outlay.

Life in the city is rich and vibrant. People come from far and wide to join us to enjoy our festivals of music and food, to relax and recreate in our parks and run through our streets. In addition to friends and family, they bring with them dollars to spend at our hotels, shops, restaurants, museums and the other attractions that help to make Denver a great city.

But along with the fun, games and revenue this litany of special events brings, come a host of associated problems – traffic and parking issues, noise, trash and unruly crowds that have people wondering, is the trade-off worth it – or do the negatives cancel out the benefits.

Kevin Scott is administrator for Citywide Events & Film. He estimated the number of special events making use of Denver streets and parks at “about 590” in 2013, and “probably 275 runs and other events in our parks.”

The broader list of events ranges from small corporate gatherings and weddings in the parks to massive celebrations like Cherry Creek Arts Festival, Cinco de Mayo, Taste of Colorado, Capitol Hill People’s Fair and Pridefest, among others.

Residents surrounding Washington Park rose up in arms a couple of years ago when Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) was unable to adequately manage large-scale sports leagues and holiday crowds that were hampered by inadequate bathrooms and trash facilities, as well as insufficient police presence to help keep matters under control. One resident complained, “It gets dark and late, and people’s behavior goes south when the sun goes down.” Neighbors took pictures of cars parked on private property or blocking driveways, and of park visitors urinating in alleys and on lawns.

DPR took quick action to increase police presence at high impact times, and increased bathroom facilities’ availability and trash containers.

While details differ from neighborhood to neighborhood, complaints continue to be heard across the city in areas where special events draw large crowds on a regular basis.

In response, for the past two years representatives of some 17 city agencies have been working to create a better structure and better guidelines so that people may continue to celebrate in our city without unfairly impacting those of us who live and work here 365 days a year.

The agencies and departments involved include: Public Works; Parks & Recreation; Denver Police; Denver Health Paramedics; Denver Fire; Excise & Licenses; Arts & Venues; Mayor’s Office; Event Oversight; City Council; Environmental Health; City Attor-ney’s Office; Emergency Management; Treasury; Denver Marketing Office; the Office of Economic Development; and Development Services.

The SEAP (Special Events and Permit-ting) process has also convened a stakeholders group of neighborhood representatives and event planners, and last month hosted four forums around the city to get the public’s take on how special events impact the neighborhoods where they take place, and how those impacts might be mitigated.

 At a Feb. 24 meeting at District 3 police station, attendees were asked to detail complaints and offer solutions that might rectify problems. Suggestions ranged from residents’ calls for earlier and more broad-based notification when special events are planned, to limiting the number of special events in particular parks and blocking off neighborhood streets to prevent overflow traffic from overwhelming them.

Washington Park East resident Biddie Lebrot explained that, “Event size must be considered. Events come in and grow, and they outgrow the space in which they started.”

Event planners in the audience hailed the SEAP process. Leah Smith of the Louisville-based event management firm, Human Movement, concurred Denver’s current system presents difficulties for event organizers as well as residents. She explained that some cities, such as Atlanta, have a more established structure for planners and neighborhood groups to work together to see that special events add to the quality of life rather than strip it away.

Smith also called on the city to design a variety of race courses in different parts of town to lessen the pressure on any one area. “Everyone wants to use Coors Field, City Park, Wash Park. It’s easier working with a city where there are multiple routes from which to choose.”

West University resident Katie Fisher asked for Denver to create a permanent festival park to provide needed space for large events that often overwhelm local parks and side streets. “It would have adequate parking and transit access, adequate restrooms, a permanent stage and offer protection from weather when needed.” Fisher also suggested Denver pass on some of the event bounty to nearby municipalities. “Let some go to Centennial or Arvada,” she said. “We don’t need to host every fabulous group.”

Diana Helper, longtime University Park resident, added that “if special events permit prices were raised, the money could be collected to build a festival park.”

Fred Weiss, DPR director of Finance and Administration told the group,  “(Special event) cost recovery is definitely part of the conversation, but it’s not easy with the city’s accounting system,” to determine the total costs that accrue to an event. He expected that, “toward the end of this year, we should have a better sense of those costs.”

Facilitator Rusty Collins of Colorado State University Extension Service asked that since a festival park was not on the drawing board, and would certainly not materialize in the next couple of years, the evening’s discussion should focus on what to do right now to improve the process.

(Following the meeting, Weiss told The Profile, “At this point a festival park is not funded. There are differing opinions on the idea. There’s the thought that a single site would make your events all a bit vanilla. They’d lose their special appeal.” Weiss also said that “there has been no decision by this administration to pursue a festival park.”

Cindy Johnstone, president of Friends and Neighbors (FANS) of Washington Park, urged the SEAP process to broaden its view of special events. “We need to look at league play, weddings, and corporate picnics, etc. This discussion must include all special events, not just the bigger races and festivals.”

While Denver evaluates its current citywide processes and criteria for permitting special events, the city has put a yearlong cap – beginning Jan. 1 of this year – on new runs, races, walks or bike rides. If such an event was not held in 2013, the city will not accept an application for a new 2014 event.

Weiss explained the SEAP process will continue on two tracks. DPR will begin to draft revised rules and regulations, which will go before the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board in May. “If we recommend fee changes, it will need to go before City Council. Our target is to be complete in September – certainly by year’s end in time for the 2015 event season.

“The broader SEAP process is more complicated,” he said. “We’re dealing with police, fire, EMS, Public Works and others. We will come to some conclusions by January 1, but we’re not going to have everything fixed,” noted Weiss. “There will be additional public meetings and outreach before the ultimate implementation of SEAP recommendations.”

In closing comments, Katy Strascina, Special Projects Manager in the mayor’s office said, “We’re setting up a Special Events office” to oversee the special events process in the future. “It was established by executive order and is set for the 2015 budget.”

Visit Denvergov.org/specialevents and click on the “Presentation” button under the 2014 Events Forum picture, for additional information.

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