TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners voted to trim summer festivals at the Open Space from a maximum of six down to four but balked at the notion the reduction will hurt tourism.
Commissioners said the new limitation would address resident concerns about the number of large events at the Open Space in a reasonable manner. Commissioners split on the question, reflecting the temperament of city residents who offered varying opinions on the need for more festivals.
“We are limiting one event at one park,” Commissioner Jeanine Easterday said before running through a long list of festivals and events that remain. “We are not eliminating events for Traverse City.”
Business owner Wes Nelson said the city commission and festival opponents seemed to have the position they want to shut the door on visitors.
“Festivals are crucial to the economy and dynamics of our community,” Nelson said. “Look long and hard before you limit the number of festivals and the fun this community has.”
But other residents and business owners said festival promoters did not invent tourism and tumble weeds won’t blow through downtown if festivals are forced to find other venues.
“Tourism and festivals are two different things,” said T. Michael Jackson, a city resident and member of the Downtown Development Authority. “People come here to enjoy the area, you don’t need all these festivals. We have two wonderful festivals. I don’t know how many more we need.”
Some residents said the festivals are enjoyed by the community and keep people in the city.
“Traverse City is hot and growing,” resident Andrew McFarlane said. “You need to have those festivals to bring the young folks to our community.”
The previous city parks policy allowed up to two high-impact events in any city park capable of hosting large events such as festivals. The amendment limits the use of Clinch Park and the Open Space in June, July, and August to one high-impact event in June and one in August, plus the National Cherry Festival and Traverse City Film Festival.
It also bans any high impact events on Memorial Day, Labor Day, and the Fourth of July in any city park. It would not impact the Cherry Festival because it is exempt from the policy.
Commissioner Tim Werner voted against the limits and cited the exemptions for the Cherry and Film festivals that use three quarters of the festival days at the Open Space.
“To me it doesn’t seem like we are being smart if we are setting aside three quarters (of festival days) and focusing on just one quarter,” Werner said.
Easterday said after the meeting that the Cherry and Film festivals are the most highly scrutinized of all events because they operate under specific contracts. They pay for the cost of all city services and have proven to be the most responsive to any citizen concerns.
Mayor Michael Estes and Commissioners Barbara Budros, Ross Richardson, and Jim Carruthers joined Easterday in approving the limits. Commissioner Gary Howe voted no.
Howe said he wants the city to first try better management of the Open Space by festivals, forcing them into a smaller footprint and eliminating clutter that makes the area seem closed off.
But other commissioners noted the park is designed for both passive and active recreation and people need to be able to enjoy it.
“Not everyone who lives in Traverse City can afford bayfront property,” said Seamus Shinners, president of the Central Neighborhood Association. “The Open Space is their bayfront. Don’t lose sight of what it means for a lot of them to be able to walk to the bay and put their feet into it.”