It will likely be a few years before Vancouver could see any new large-scale events coming to one of the city’s parks.
Vancouver Park Board this week voted to put a moratorium on introducing any new commercial initiatives until after the board has updated, and approved, its special events guidelines. Any existing events, and new events that are considered charitable or non-profit, will be allowed to continue. However, the park board will not consider any applications for new commercial events until after the guidelines, which were last updated and approved in 2003, are revamped.
That means that if events such as last year’s Skookum music festival and the Vancouver Mural Fest concert in Jonathan Rogers Park, Diner en Blanc and the annual Lululemon SeaWheeze half marathon were proposed this year, the board would not entertain the application until after the guidelines are updated.
Octavio Silva, manager of business development, estimated updating the guidelines will take about 12 to 15 months to complete.
Paul Runnals, an owner of BrandLive, the event production company behind last year’s Skookum Festival in Stanley Park, among other events, spoke at Monday’s meeting and urged commissioners to continue to allow new commercial events while updating the guidelines.
“We support the need for an updated and balanced strategy towards the hosting of public and private events, which is respectful of the rich and historical importance of certain sites to the local First Nations, while still making space available for free and community events,” he said. “However, this strategy must also facilitate private events that support the meeting and convention sector, as well as commercial events that bring in significant cultural, economic, tourism and employment benefits to the city, to local businesses and to local residents.”
The park board issues approximately 1,300 event permits a year. Most of them, roughly 94 per cent, are recurring events that happen on an annual basis. The remaining six per cent are new initiatives and of those, 12 per cent were new commercial events last year — Skookum, the mural fest concert and Bacio Rosso Gourmet Cabaret Cirque in Queen Elizabeth Park.
Commercial events, with 15 taking place in parks in 2018, make up about one per cent of the total number of events that take place in parks annually. However, that one per cent brings in 44 per cent of the park board’s revenue generated from hosting events — $238,500 last year.
Without parks as possible venue options, many events would struggle to find a home in the city.
“One of the biggest challenges our industry faces is a lack of suitable venues to host events in and around the downtown peninsula,” Runnals said. “With the pace of development that has been ongoing through the Lower Mainland, a number of important event sites have been lost including… the Concord lands in northeast False Creek, while others have significant physical or other restrictions that limit their viability such as the north plaza of the art gallery and Jack Poole Plaza down at the convention centre.”
The motion passed in a 5-2 vote with NPA commissioners John Coupar and Tricia Barker in opposition.
“We sometimes talk about corporate events as if they’re some sort of evil thing,” Coupar said, adding that many popular attractions in the city, such as Bloedel Conservatory, VanDusen Botanical Garden and the H.R. MacMillan planetarium, are the result of corporate philanthropy.
Barker said while she supports the idea of updating the guidelines, “I also don’t think that they are so broken that we can’t let another event come in… I think we are reasonable people and we can look at those events and make really good decisions on whether they’re appropriate in our parks or not.”
Green commissioner Camil Dumont voiced concern over the effect that events can have on parks.
“There are parks in our system that are really stressed in regard to how much event activity takes place in them,” he said. “I think particularly of VanDusen garden and, I think, the botanical and horticultural priorities of that space are compromised, in my view, by the amount of events there.”
Board chair Stuart Mackinnon supported the motion, saying it allows the park board to maintain any current events.
“None of those will go away. It simply says that we’re going to hit the pause button, which I think is a really good idea…” he said. “This is my third term on the park board and, as a group, we rarely say no to corporate events and I want to make sure that we know why we’re making those decisions, what the ramifications are going to be in the future and that we have the public behind us when we make those decisions.”
Coupar said he is concerned a 12- to 15-month pause could take longer than anticipated.
“Things always take longer than we expect at the park board,” he said. “That’s a given. It’s not because our staff aren’t working hard, it’s because they have a lot of things to deal with, so 18 months can become two years, two years can become two and a half years.”