|A scene from Paella in the Park
It's become one of the most hotly debated questions in Traverse City: Are there too many festivals and events in town? And which types of events do residents want more – or less – of?
An ad hoc committee of the city commission – comprised of Mayor Michael Estes and commissioners Barbara Budros and Mary Ann Moore – has been meeting since June to discuss the issue. On October 8, the committee will present a proposed overhaul of the city's parks usage policy to the city commission.
Among the proposed changes: Create a set of criteria by which events would be considered “high impact” (those that have significant infrastructure, sell alcohol, are for-profit and/or require the use of city personnel), limit the number of high-impact events that can take place in city parks, and institute permit fees for organizers ranging from $135 a day for charitable non-profits up to $1,730 a day for for-profit groups.
Additional fees of $500 a day would incur for events featuring alcohol. “Low impact” events like weddings, reunions and picnics would have minimal fees.
Estes spearheaded the charge to revamp the policy after city commissioners complained about a lack of clear regulations on who can use parks and when.
He says that the Parks & Recreation commission, which typically oversees city park issues, was “invited to participate” in the discussion. But members of that commission have vocalized frustration at feeling sidelined in the process. They are critical of the new proposal, saying it's complex, gives preferential treatment to some groups over others, and lacks necessary opportunities for public input on events.
“In general, the draft seems overly complicated and potentially overly restrictive,” says Parks & Recreation commissioner Gary Howe.
Parks & Recreation commissioner Brian Haas agrees. He notes that two user groups in particular, the National Cherry Festival and Traverse City Film Festival, were specifically “invited to the table” to help shape the policy. In the new draft, both festivals are exempted from park rules and requirements (this is true of the current policy as well). The organizations also have first priority to use city parks over all other users – even if another group has reserved a park first.
Howe argued against the exemptions, saying “the default should be they are subject to the same policy as everyone else.”
But Estes counters that their “special status” is deserved because they're proven entities. “If someone else can demonstrate they'll produce the same results as these events, they can earn preferential treatment too,” he says.
Disparities among user groups also exist in the new fee structure. For-profit organizations are charged significantly higher fees than non-profit organizations to host events – even when partnering with a non-profit. Porterhouse Productions, which hosts Paella in the Park and the Great Wakes Festival in downtown city parks, is one example of a for-profit organization that partners with non-profits on its events.
Brad Van Dommelen, president of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, says he doesn't believe those organizations should pay higher fees. He proposes instead that fees be based on the scope of the event, the cost it incurs to the city, and its expected footprint – regardless of the nature of the organization behind it.
“I don't want to turn away anyone with a great idea,” Van Dommelen says. “It's important to recognize parks as an economic resource, which means encouraging festivals and events where possible.”
Everyone involved agrees city parks are a valuable commodity, and that it's in the community's best interest to find an appropriate balance between using and protecting them. The conflict comes in when trying to decide on the best way to do so. Estes hopes the public will share their opinions on the developing policy on October 8.
“I'm anticipating changes to the draft,” he says. “The important thing is to get it right so that when it goes to a city commission vote, everyone can support it."