Park Board to allow more events and festivals to be held in Vancouver parks

Nov 30 2022, 1:03 am

The previous Vancouver Park Board’s moratorium on allowing more events in city park spaces is coming to an end.

Since May 2019, a moratorium has been put in place on what the previous makeup of the Park Board termed as “new commercial initiatives,” and it was intended to expire after Park Board staff complete their work on updating guidelines for special events.

It was originally expected to take about a year to update the policies, but 3.5 years later, this has yet to be achieved, and the moratorium has remained through the recovery period emerging out of the pandemic.

At the time of the moratorium’s approval, the majority coalition of Park Board commissioners from the COPE and Green parties took issue with factors such as the environmental impact of events and the temporary loss of accessible public space. Commissioners were warned by Park Board staff the moratorium could prevent new events such as concerts, exhibitions, markets, and other innovative experiences, including ziplines and dining events.

While the moratorium blocked for-profit entities and event organizers from staging new events, the temporary policy still permitted new charitable and non-profit events.

A new member motion by ABC Vancouver commissioner Brennan Bastyovanszky calling for the termination of the moratorium is scheduled to be deliberated next week. With the ABC party holding a super majority of six of the seven seats in the elected body, this motion is expected to pass.

Park Board staff will also be specifically directed to reopen their process for considering applications from event organizers for new commercial events and initiatives in parks.

“The moratorium on the introduction of any new commercial initiatives in Vancouver parks precludes events that could activate public spaces, foster community connectedness, enhance the vibrancy of our city, and provide enriching cultural experiences. Without parks as possible venue options, many events struggle to find a home in the city,” reads his motion.

Furthermore, Park Board staff would also report back to the commissioners by late January 2023 on the current status of updating the special event guidelines.

According to Park Board staff, prior to the pandemic, they issued about 1,300 permits annually for special events and other activities, with 94% being recurring events and the remaining 6% for new initiatives. Most events are public and support charitable, non-profit, and/or community initiatives. It was also noted that a very small number of events, although often high profile in nature, are commercial or private initiatives.

In 2018, there were 738 private picnic events, 103 private wedding and small events, 271 non-profit/charitable community events (e.g., Ovarian Cancer Walk of Hope, RBC Race for the Kids), 103 non-profit/charitable sporting events (e.g., BMO Vancouver Marathon, Dragonboat Festival), 17 charitable/non-profit festivals and concerts (e.g., Bard on the Beach, Vancouver Pride Sunset Beach Festival), 24 vendor markets such as farmers markets, and 15 commercial events.

Examples of “commercial events” in park space include the now-defunct Lululemon SeaWheeze Half-Marathon, now-defunct Skookum Music Festival, Diner en Blanc, Bacio Rosso (now known as Cabaret Bijou, relocated to Vanier Park from its previous location at Queen Elizabeth Park), and Gran Fondo.

Bacio Rosso Gourmet Cabaret Cirque Vanier Park

New location of Bacio Rosso Gourmet Cabaret (Cabaret Bijou) at the Burrard Civic Marina land storage area next to Vanier Park. (Vancouver Park Board)

Bacio Rosso Gourmet Cabaret Cirque

Bacio Rosso Vancouver Gourmet Cabaret Cirque 2018. (Bacio Rosso)

In early Spring 2022, the previous makeup of Park Board commissioners approved a “2022 events calendar” of 89 major special events, including six events organized and executed by the Park Board, two events by VanDusen Botanical Garden, and 81 events by third parties on park jurisdiction across the city.

Although “commercial events” account for just 1% of the total number of events in 2018, they generated nearly half of the Park Board’s total revenues from permitting events — $239,000 out of $543,500.

All the while, events in the city are facing downsizing or outright cancellation due to rapidly inflating costs, including the expensive logistics associated with sites that are challenging to organize large, complex events, festivals, and activations.

As well, large open spaces suitable for the flexible needs for events in and around the downtown Vancouver peninsula — such as the Concord lands in Northeast False Creek — are increasingly being developed, which leaves park spaces as the next best suitable option.

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