Park ban softens for Atlanta Pride

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The City of Atlanta has made its next move in the simmering debate over where to host large-scale public events, including the Atlanta Pride Festival. The new option leaves open the chance that Pride may return to a city park — even Piedmont Park — in 2009, according to Southern Voice.

Atlanta’s five biggest festivals have 10 days to work out a compromise or face a lottery to see which Class A event can return to Piedmont Park in 2009.

At a Tuesday meeting, Dianne Harnell Cohen, commissioner of the Atlanta Parks, Recreation & Cultural Affairs Department, informed the directors of the city’s five-largest festivals that each could return to a city park next year.

But only one can be hosted at Piedmont Park, which until 2008 was home to Atlanta Pride, the Dogwood Festival, Peachtree Road Race, Screen on the Green and Atlanta Jazz Festival.

Harnell Cohen, who announced sweeping changes to city regulations in January that pushed most organized events out of Piedmont, said she’s now willing to work with festival to see which city park they can use next year.

“We are looking at having the festivals back in the park by having one festival in each park,” Harnell Cohen said. “What we are saying is if there are five festivals, we would identify five festivals and five parks.”

Some festival directors told Southern Voice that if the events did not work out a compromise amongst themselves that they city would host a lottery on Oct. 3 to assign each festival to a city park. Harnell Cohen refused to comment on that possibility.

Although the city declined to name which parks could be used, the directors confirmed Piedmont Park; Grant Park near Zoo Atlanta; Mozely Park, west of downtown on Martin Luther King Jr.; Woodruff Park in downtown; and Central Park near the Atlanta Civic Center are all on the table.

While Georgia is under a level-four drought, Piedmont Park cannot host the five festivals that attract crowds larger than 50,000 people, Harnell Cohen said. But by utilizing all of the city’s parks, the city can spread out the damage to the parks’ turf and host all the festivals at city venues, she added.

The proposal is a change from the city’s position that no Class A event could use a city park while the state was in the severe drought. However, all the festivals consider Piedmont Park their top option.

Atlanta Pride Chair Deirdre Heffernan said the festivals are working to reach a compromise before facing a lottery where each festival would have an equal chance of receiving Piedmont Park.

“At this point we are going to see if there is anything we can do to avoid a lottery. … We’re all going to go back and see if any of these is an option that works for our festival,” Heffernan said.

Last July, the Atlanta Pride Festival shifted to the civic center and a move away from its traditional late-June weekend for the event. Attendance and revenue dropped dramatically and Pride’s top two officials left the organization a short time later. Since then, hope seemed dim that the festival could return to Piedmont in 2009.

The Piedmont Park Conservancy, the park’s non-profit caretaker, has tried repeatedly to drill for water so it could irrigate the park and skirt the city’s tough drought-related restrictions on outdoor watering.

The city’s decision to allow large-scale events back into its parks comes in the wake of a successful Atlanta Arts Festival held in Piedmont earlier this month.


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