City raising fees for using major parks Pavilion in Baltimore to cost at least twice the current $50 levy

Changes effective May 1

Officials say new funds are needed for cleanup, repairs

March 13, 1997|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Want to invite all the relatives to a reunion in a Baltimore park?

Go ahead, but it will cost at least twice as much this summer to have that picnic in a pavilion.

Just as the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is urging families and businesses to hold reunions in honor of Baltimore's bicentennial, the city is increasing its fees for using pavilions and athletic fields in most of the 15 major parks.

The city's Board of Estimates yesterday approved a package of higher fees to cover cleanup after events, including first-time charges for tennis, basketball and volleyball teams that hold tournaments in the parks.

But the financial panel rejected the most radical proposal: to charge $5,000 apiece for big festivals -- instead of nothing.

"We've already lost a number of festivals, and going from zero to $5,000 isn't going to help," said Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, who chairs the board. "I happen to believe festivals are very valuable to the city and bring a lot of enthusiasm and excitement to the city. This would kill a lot of major festivals."

He and the mayor directed parks officials to develop a cheaper plan to pay for picking up trash, reseeding lawns and other services the city provides for the biggest festivals in the parks each year.

One option would be to require that event planners put up a bond, Bell said.

Parks officials acknowledged yesterday that they had not warned organizers of the events, including a Caribbean gathering and the Stone Soul Picnic sponsored by Radio One, both of which draw hundreds of families each year to Druid Hill Park. The lapse dismayed Bell and Schmoke, who said early notification was critical.

The Department of Recreation and Parks defended the increases, saying the city could no longer shoulder the financial burden of all the large events in its parks.

"We spend a lot more in maintenance and cleanup costs in refurbishing the property than we're charging right now," said Annette Stenhouse, a department spokeswoman.

In 1993, when the Schmoke administration began charging fees for festivals, footraces and parades, upset community leaders predicted the demise of some of the popular street gatherings that are a hallmark of Baltimore.

The March of Dimes Walk-A-Thon, which for 22 years had brought together as many as 30,000 people in Baltimore, immediately fled to the suburbs to protest the fees. But the March of Dimes returned the next year, and while some festivals fell apart, other traditional celebrations have remained as strong.

Only about 10 festivals that are held each year in city parks would have to pay new fees under the latest plan.

But hundreds of businesses, nonprofit organizations and private groups that hold parties, softball tournaments and fund-raisers in the parks will pay an extra $10. Those who picnic in a pavilion -- about 260 groups a year -- will pay an additional $50 to $200, depending on the size of the group. The old fee was a flat $50.

Basketball, tennis and volleyball teams -- now paying nothing -- will be charged a $35 application fee and a $100 permit for an eight-hour tournament or clinic.

Rowers who use a boat launch at Robert E. Lee Park also will have to pay more -- $100 instead of $20 for the season.

The new fee structure, which goes into effect May 1, will mean at least $70,555 in additional revenue for the city.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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