CLEARWATER -- It has been more than two months since Clearwater's citizens have had open access to Coachman Park.
Chain-link fencing was erected around its perimeter on September 30 in preparation for a series of Fall events, giving the appearance that the Park was closed. Only two well-hidden entrances have been maintained since then, one beyond a "Street Closed" barricade on the Drew Street extension, and one at the Southwest corner of the park.
Coachman Park has been heavily used since October 1. Events were planned nearly every weekend, some free to the public and some charging admission:
City spokesperson Joelle Castelli provided an answer: "Multiple Events during the period of time in questioned (sic)", she stated in an email response.
While there were multiple events, none of those between October 2 and November 17 had paid admission. But two of them, the Jazz Holiday and Chili Cookoff, had beer sales, and City ordinance requires that the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages "shall be confined within a secured perimeter for the entire event." The seller of the beer at those events was the City of Clearwater, those sales causing the City to require fencing from itself!
The openness of Coachman Park has been an issue in Clearwater since 2000. A referendum was put to Clearwater's voters that would have leased much of the City's downtown waterfront to developer George De Guardiola. A feature of that lease would have given him exclusive use of Coachman Park 100 days per year for the production of commercial events.
That referendum failed in part because Clearwater's citizens rejected the de-facto privatization of Coachman Park. De Guardiola is gone, yet his concept for Coachman Park is not; the City has taken his place as a partner or promoter of commercial events and vendor of alcoholic beverages.
The park's chain-link fencing was removed this week following the Next Big Thing 5 concert. According to Clearwater's Director of Parks and Recreation Kevin Dunbar, the fencing will likely be reinstalled in early-March 2006 for the WildSplash concert.
The preliminary statistics for this past weekend's Next Big Thing 5 event indicate that Clearwater Police and Paramedics had a very busy Sunday. According to Clearwater Police spokesperson Wayne Shelor, there were 199 on-site medical treatments, 12 hospitalizations including one trauma case requiring transport to Bayfront Medical Center, 43 ejections, 7 misdemeanor arrests, and 1 felony arrest on an out of State warrant. The concert was a sell-out, with 12,500 tickets sold and an additional 2,500 promotional tickets issued.
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