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UPDATE: Botanical Garden Cries Foul, City Responds, Regarding Proposed Concert Series for Ann Morrison Park

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UPDATE: October 19, 2016, 10 a.m.

City of Boise officials insisted Wednesday morning that there was no section of City Code that preempted their desire to pursue the possibility of a concert series in Ann Morrison Park. The remarks came in the wake of a local nonprofit which operates its own concert series arguing that existing rules prevent a concert series in a public park. The Idaho Botanical Garden, which hosts a number of highly-successful summer/early fall concerts in Outlaw Field also argued that a city-sponsored concert series could threaten IBG's sustainability.

"There is nothing within city code that would prohibit this effort," City of Boise spokesman Mike Journee told Boise Weekly early Wednesday. 

"We believe Ann Morrison Park could serve the community as an excellent venue for a concert series and add even more vibrancy to downtown," said Journee. "It'll be another great way for Boiseans to enjoy their city and its park system as well as serve to attract tourists and visitors. Such a series would also bring added business to our hotels, restaurants and bars in the immediate area and beyond."

That said, Journee was quick to add, the Request for Proposal process was in the very early stages. 

"At this point, the City has only issued an RFP," he said. "There is no guarantee that we'll get a proposal or that we'll get the right proposal."

ORIGINAL REPORT: October 19, 2016, 9 a.m.

Its formal classification is RFP-17-048-0-2017/wm, and the description from the city of Boise's request for proposals is to, "Provide all services necessary to create a successful concert series." Meanwhile, the Idaho Botanical Garden says the city's proposal threatens the very livelihood of the nonprofit.

"We don't think we should be the only concert series in the Treasure Valley," said Erin Anderson, executive director of IBG, whose Outlaw Field Concert Series played host this year to Tony Bennett, Bonnie Raitt and Neil Young.

"We encourage healthy competition. But should the city subsidize a concert series that could negatively impact the Idaho Botanical Garden?" she added. "We want a fair playing field. But by the city hosting a concert series in a city park paid for with taxpayer dollars, it's going to create a conflict."

The city's RFP surfaced Sept. 28, asking promoters to submit a plan to create a "contemporary concert series" for Ann Morrison Park. The concerts would take place on available dates in 2017 and, according to the RFP packet, a number of dates would be available in late May; early June; the second, third and fourth weeks of July; the first two weeks of August; the final three weeks of September; and the final three weeks of October. The preferred proposal would carry a one-year agreement with a promoter, with a two-year extension option.

"The City expressly retains the right to have sole discretion and approval of all entertainers proposed and selected by the proposer," according to the RFP. "Performances would end no later than 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and no later than 9 p.m. on all other nights."

Anderson told Boise Weekly that, having worked in the Boise Parks and Recreation Department before becoming IBG executive director, she knows for a fact that concert promoters have approached the city on a number of occasions about using a city park for concerts.

"I have a little background, and some concert promotion companies have asked the city—quite often—to use park space. But it's something the city has shied away from for quite some time because of the ordinance," said Anderson.

The 2016 season at Outlaw Field included Tony Bennett, Bonnie Raitt and Neil Young.
  • The 2016 season at Outlaw Field included Tony Bennett, Bonnie Raitt and Neil Young.

According to Boise Parks and Recreation's own policies, "City Code restricts the sale and advertisement of goods and services in city parks. The City of Boise chooses to maintain public parks as open space accessible to all residents and visitors (no admission charges are permitted)."

Anderson wonders how the city plans to do an end-run around its own rules.

"Are they working around the ordinance? That's what it feels like," she said. "But I'm not sure how they envision that, which is why we're looking for a formal sit-down conversation with the city."

That conversation will come Monday, Oct. 24 at Boise City Hall, where Anderson confirmed she'll be meeting with a team of representatives from the Parks and Rec Department.

According to the city's own documents, there have been no previous attempts to create a series of concerts in Boise parks; but, if approved, "this series would be handled under a specific contract with [the] promoter."

The city would have some specific requirements of a concert series promoter. The RFP indicates a percentage or fixed amount of the proceeds from the concert series would go to a local charity. Concert promoters are being asked to identify up to five local charities that would receive funds from the proceeds. Additionally, each ticket sold would include a $3 "park improvement fee" that would go into city coffers.

Under the terms of the RFP, a successful concert series promoter would reap the benefits of food and beverage sales, including some alcohol sales. At least 10 percent of any food sold at the venue for the first year of the series would have to be "healthy," as defined by the city's healthy food policy. By the second and third years of the concert series, healthy food choices would be required to make up 20 and 30 percent, respectively, of all food offered.

Regardless of its management structure, Anderson said a competing concert series in a city park would strike at the very heart of the Idaho Botanical Garden's sustainability.

"This proposed concert series, only 3.3 miles away from our concert series, would come into direct competition," she said. "Our big question [to the city] is: Why are you working around City Code when such a concert series would have such a negative impact on a beloved nonprofit in our community?"