Council Workshop Erupts Over Spellman Amphitheater Operations
Post Managing Editor
On Thursday evening the Forney City Council was joined by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Parks Board and the Spellman Amphitheater Sub-Committee, for a collaborative workshop on decisions surrounding the recently completed Mick Spellman Amphitheater.
The Mick Spellman Amphitheater is visibly positioned within the Forney Community Park and the placement decision of the Amphitheater was openly debated and ultimately voted upon by the Council many months prior to construction beginning, and absolutely prior to the citizens of Forney voting upon the sale of alcohol within the city.
The Forney Entertainment Overlay District, a zoning district that was created by the City Council to contain Forney businesses that are legally permitted to serve alcohol, does not include the Forney Community Park property.
And the City of Forney recently requested that the Forney P&Z Commission grant approval to re-zone the Community Park property to be within the Entertainment Overlay District therefore providing the Amphitheater with the ability to sell alcohol.
During the two and a half hour workshop both, P&Z Commission Chairman, Robert Dobbs, and Parks Board President, Jody Eastep, repeatedly stated their concerns regarding the sale of alcohol within the Amphitheater, as did Council Member, Mary Penn.
The P&Z Commission “tabled the City’s request” at their June 2012 meeting and at that time asked for specific information on the sale of alcohol from Forney Community Development Director, Peter Morgan.
The Forney Parks Board has thus far declined to endorse the sale of alcohol within the Amphitheater as it is not an issue they are required to vote upon. However, they too have sought clarification of exactly where alcohol will be sold and how the remainder of the park will be managed during scheduled events.
Forney Parks and Recreation Director, Richard Curry, along with City Manager, Brian Brooks, conducted the workshop and Director Curry began the meeting with a brief video presentation of what was envisioned by city planners when the Spellman Amphitheater was initially conceived.
Director Curry explained “This whole thing started like three years ago. And then two years ago, we met for the first time with the Parks Board and the Council and this was the original video that was shown. So from my perspective this is where the whole thing started as far as our direction.”
After presenting the short video, which clearly promoted large outdoor concerts within a park setting and where alcohol was being sold and consumed, Director Curry gave a brief presentation about the promotional contract that was recently obtained from PM Group.
Comparing Amphitheater operations to the navigation of a ship, the first slide in Director Curry’s presentation entitled “The Range – A Glimpse At What We Can Do”, detailed plans to schedule four national concerts at the Amphitheater within the next year.
Director Curry explained that in addition to these four national concerts, the PM Group would be contracted to present six Regional/Metroplex Acts, ranging in cost from $2,500 to $5,000 per event, per year. And then an additional twelve acts, per year, would be comprised from local and FISD musical and theater groups.
Still in the preliminary stages of contract negotiations with PM Group on the many promotional avenues available to the City, it should be noted that during the meeting Director Curry confirmed that neither the Council, the P&Z Commission nor the Parks Board have reviewed the event coordination contract being proposed by PM Group.
Director Curry next used a slide entitled, “The Bearing: The People and the Policies” to explain that at this point the City should contract as Special Events Coordinator to address a long list of issues including facility rental fees and operational policies as well as, policies surrounding the sell of alcohol, concessions and licensed merchandise.
The Amphitheater Workshop was designed to discuss not only the sale of alcohol within the Amphitheater and the hiring of an event coordinator/promotional firm, but to also decide if booking events at the facility should, or should not be considered a “profit making venture” for the City of Forney.
Mayor Rozell opened the workshop to a full discussion on Amphitheater operations by stating “We called this workshop and asked the members of the Parks Board, the P&Z and the Amphitheater Sub-Committee because the staff needs direction from us on where to go from here.”
Within minutes several members of the both the Parks Board and the P&Z Commission began voicing their opinions, with long time Forney Parks Board President, Jodie Eastep, starting the round table discussion on the risks associated with alcohol sales within the Community Park.
Eastep stated “One of the things we have talked about is how the sell of alcohol in the Amphitheater is going to impact park operations. It’s going to drive our polices and change existing policies in regard to consumption of alcohol in the park.”
Explaining Eastep said “I’m concerned about bringing alcohol into the park. If it’s coming, which I hope its not, but if it is coming, then we need to openly discuss if alcohol sales are the driving force behind bringing entertainment in. My concern is where do we draw the line? When you have alcohol being served just yards from soccer fields with kids on them, how will the City control it?”
Responding to Eastep, Council Member, James Hatley stated “Well, beer and wine will not be sold in the park it will only be sold within the Amphitheater. We’ll close the park during these events. I think that is the biggest misconception out there right now. We’re not going to sell alcohol in the park, only in the Amphitheater during special events, and the park will be closed so there will not be anyone on the soccer fields.”
Chairman of the P&Z Commission, Robert Dobbs, also addressed the Council several times during the meeting and in regard to alcohol sales within the Amphitheater stated, “I for one think it is not a question of how you control it. If you want to put it somewhere you can control it, put it right outside the backdoor of the police station. I think we can control it just as well as we control the bar activity but that’s not the issue.”
Chairman Dobbs said “My question is this. I’ve listened to your dialogue and what I haven’t heard yet is how are you going to limit alcohol sales to national acts only? I mean, you intend to do four national acts but you will also do regional acts like cover bands so how are you going to limit alcohol sales to them?”
Responding, Council Member Hatley stated “Robert it’s an easy thing to do. We just limit alcohol sales to only the four national acts period.”
To which Chairman Dobbs replied “Well, I just think some more research needs to be done. And you all need to decide which direction you are taking because alcohol is a sensitive issue in the community. You guys need to decide what direction you are taking this thing because maybe your premature talking about this stuff. You need to decide if those national acts are going to bring in enough to cover the costs you’re talking about, like extra security. If you’re not going to make it worth it, why even go down this road? At some point, you guys may not be the Council. You are writing checks you may not be around to cash.”
Council Member Hatley immediately began to respond but was interrupted by Mayor Rozell who stated, “I apologize but I am going to interrupt you because I’d like to address this from a Council prospective. My thoughts, without speaking for anyone else up here are your right. We may not be the Council, this may not be the Parks Board and this may not be the P&Z Board, that’s going to be community driven. But that’s true with every ordinance we currently write.”
Elaborating his point, Mayor Rozell stated “The people who would serve on the Council then would be elected by the community and be representing the community, then. And if they don’t represent it right then they are not going to be there anymore. These ordinances and things can be changed. Just like it’s not fair for me to judge those guys in the past based on our current situation because they had no idea back then what we would be faced with now. It’s not fair for anyone else to put ultimately what may happen based on the decisions we are making now on us, because there is no one perfect way to do this.”
A very obvious disagreement ensued for approximately twenty minutes and only the pictorial below can clearly reveal the changes in body language that transpired throughout the room as several people became visibly frustrated and angry.
Ultimately City Manager, Brian Brooks, detailed out what he perceived to be the various requests for additional information and or policy clarification and shortly thereafter Mayor Rozell called the workshop adjourned.