Wagner: Used to the fullest or overused? | AspenTimes.com

Wagner: Used to the fullest or overused?

Janet Urquhart
Alejandro Farach and his son, Pedro, visiting from the Dominican Republic, enjoy some sledding at Wagner Park on Wednesday. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

Wagner Park may fast become the most versatile plot of grass around, serving as concert venue, dining hall, comedy club and polo grounds all within a matter of months. Whether the grass will be in any kind of shape for the annual Food & Wine Magazine Classic next June remains to be seen.The city’s Special Events Committee gave its nod to several events at the park on Tuesday, though a couple of them are likely to require City Council approval, as well.The biggest, a pair of rock concerts planned in late January in conjunction with ESPN’s Winter X Games, could take the biggest toll on the turf, but it’s the potential cumulative impact on the park that had a couple of committee members voicing concern. A recent weekend of snow polo at the park kicked off a string of special events planned at Wagner.”I do have a problem with what’s becoming the overuse of Wagner Park,” said David Hoefer, assistant city attorney. “I think, as a committee, we’d be remiss if we didn’t encourage these people to look for alternative sites.”

Past concerts have taken place on city streets, but the park would better accommodate a VIP tent organizers intend to erect for 400 to 500 people during the X Games. The concerts could attract as many as 5,000 to 8,000 people, depending on the weather and the acts, promoter David Laughren guessed.The concerts will require City Council approval, but the committee gave the green light to erecting a 12,600-square-foot tent for a pair of private banquets next month. Then, before it is dismantled, the tent will host the public Taste of Wintersköl, featuring offerings from participating local restaurants as part of the town’s annual winter festival.HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival wants use of the park when it returns to Aspen on Feb. 9-12. The committee OK’d plans for a 4,800-square-foot tent in the park to accommodate audiences of up to 300 people. The tent will be used for three to five performances a day, ending as late as 1 a.m., organizer Joe Lang said.A noise variance for the concerts will require City Council approval; one for the Comedy Fest tent may be necessary, as well.Last winter, Comedy Fest put a tent up in the courtyard of the St. Regis Aspen, but the hotel isn’t permitting that this time, Lang said. The banquets, for an A.G. Edwards corporate event, have also been pushed out of the St. Regis with the construction of a new spa in the luxury hotel/residence club, the committee was told.It was the increasing pressure to use the park that had the City Council exploring artificial turf at Wagner earlier this year, noted City Clerk Kathryn Koch, chairwoman of the Special Events Committee.

“We talked about fake grass and half the people in town held their breath, rolled over and died,” she said facetiously.Tom Rubel, parks operations superintendent for the city, said he’d like to see at least a foot of snow on the park if the concerts go forward – the use of snowmaking equipment has been suggested to ensure adequate coverage – but he is contemplating some sort of damage deposit, just in case.Resodding the park in the spring would cost some $60,000, Rubel guessed, but he said he won’t be seeking a check for that much from ESPN or whatever entity puts up the deposit.”Personally, I do think we’re putting too much stuff out there,” he said.With everything that may take place at the park, though, assigning blame for any damage could be difficult, Rubel conceded.”It’s going to be hard to tell who did the damage,” he said. “It’s going to be cumulative.”

Wagner Park is already roped off each spring to facilitate its recovery for Food & Wine. A few locals always complain about losing use of the park for sitting in the grass or passive play, like tossing a Frisbee.Aspen’s desire for downtown excitement has to be weighed against the impacts, including noise and potential damage to the park – and the consequences that will have next summer, Mayor Helen Klanderud said.”I think the more requests that come in, we’re going to have to look at it,” she said. “There may be a maximum number that, if we go beyond, when summer comes we may have some serious problems.”I agree having things going on in town certainly adds vitality to the downtown,” Klanderud added.”Like everything else, it’s about balance.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com