Vermilion Parks and Recreation Board discusses fees and recent conflict

By Melanie Williamson

The Vermilion Parks and Recreation Board met for their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, September 18. Starting off the meeting, Char Gabel shared that all the veteran bricks in the Exchange Park have been counted and documented, and she reported that none of the bricks are broken.

From the audience, Brian Crandall from The Silly Goose addressed the parks board for the second month regarding concerns by retailers about downtown events that close Main Street and hurt business. He asked that if before parks use permits are issued, they work to find an equitable solution for everyone impacted by the events run downtown.

Park Use Permits: There were several park use permits approved during the meeting including the Vermilion Beach Market for summer 2019, the Triathlon and Hot Diggity Dog event for 2019, and a couple of events hosted by Blind Dog Gym.  Lake Shore Corvettes also had a permit submitted for their annual Corvette show, but that permit request was tabled until the next to give the board a chance to discuss some of the concerns posed by retailers. Parker also stated that it was important that all groups be notified that there is a chance that a park impact fee may be assessed to all events scheduled in 2019.

Directors Report: Park supervisor Dana Corogin updated the board on several maintenance projects including the repair of the wood ceiling in the pavilion at Showse Park and the walkway in East Exchange Park. Corogin also discussed problems they are having with the soldier bricks along the sidewalks in Exchange Park and the around the Comfort Station. While she is still considering their options, she stated that as of now the cheapest option is to have the bricks removed and palatalized, so they can reuse them in the future when funds are available. The quote for this was $1500. Her concern is that just removing the bricks would make the sidewalk very narrow. Corogin also stated that she received a quote of $18,000 to remove the veteran bricks carefully, pour a concrete pad, and put them back.

Corogin also presented a preliminary concept idea for adding bathrooms to Main Street Beach. The idea presented was in the very early stages and posed many questions. The board voted to approve her moving forward with research to see if bathrooms were a viable option.

Park impact Fees: One of the items up for discussion was charging a park impact fee for park permits. Up until now, park usage has been free for all events. However, rising costs and the parks budget from the city’s general fund being cut, maintaining the parks has become a challenge. Additionally, after some research, it was determined that most parks departments charge some fee for park usage that then helps with maintenance.

The board discussed several options in creating a rate structure, which included offering different rates for residents versus nonresidents and different rates for small events like a birthday party than large events like the Vermilion Beach Market. It was discussed that some of these events are bringing in money while using the parks for free. It was determined that charging a fee won’t completely make up for the city cuts to the parks department, but it would certainly help.

After some discussion, there was a consensus that while some may balk at the idea, it was not unreasonable to charge a small fee for park use permits. Katie Lalonde asked how this information would be communicated since many families and groups may have been using the parks for years without a fee. It was suggested that announcements could be posted online and when people contact the city for a park use permit, they can be notified upfront of the new fee. It was also discussed that ideally, they would eventually be able to offer online registration through the city website along with a calendar of available dates. Board president Terry Parker created a subcommittee to explore the idea of a park impact fee further and report back to the parks board.

Conflict Resolution: Before the meeting was adjoined, the ongoing conflict regarding community event and park usage was brought up with the suggestion that a group is formed comprised of representatives from the major organizations so that they can work things out. It was stated that while the parks board does grant park use permits, they do not control when the street is closed or what is sold at events.

Crandall from the Silly Goose stated that he has been to two city council meetings to voice is concerns and has gotten no response from anyone. Councilman Holmes said that there are three main organizations planning events in the community, and they all have the “same common goal; they just need to play in the sandbox nicer.” Holmes also stated that this was a parks board issue and should be resolved with the parks board.

Board president Terry Parker stated that they could look into forming a coalition to facilitate conversation. Shawn Jeffrey, the owner of the Ancient Celtic Shop, requested that shop owners be included in this discussion because their perspective is different from the organizations planning the events and their views should be considered.

She also addressed the statement that the parks board was not responsible for closing Main Street asking who is responsible. Referring specifically to the Corvette show, she suggested that it be moved to South Shore Plaza stating that it could be part of the Bridge to Bridge initiative, they could promote Susie’s restaurant, and even talk to Conrad’s about being a sponsor since they are a car-related business. Mayor Forthofer responded that it is the streets department that closes the street for events, and that he felt the group should start with just the organizations involved in planning events. He stated that if they can resolve some of the misunderstandings, that will eliminate a lot of the problems they are having.

Future Meeting: The next Parks and Recreation Board is scheduled for Tuesday, October 16, at 7 p.m. in the courthouse of the municipal complex on Decatur Street.

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