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Taos group seeks to stop downtown concerts

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

A small group in Taos calling themselves the “Kit Carson Park Friends” is petitioning for the removal of the stage and big concerts in the town’s downtown park.

According to Merce Mitchell, one of the organizers, the group is made up of eight to 10 people concerned about the downtown park becoming a “permanent concert venue,” and they want to preserve it as a “people’s park.”

But their online petition had about 275 signatures as of earlier this week.

Kit Carson Park is developing into a popular music venue for shows small and large. Crowds of about 8,000 attended Mumford and Sons and Alabama Shakes concerts in 2013 and 2016. Michael Hearne’s annual Big Barn Dance Festival is also held in the park.

In 2018, the park hosted Michael Franti, Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown and Meow Wolf’s Taos Vortex two-day festival featuring The Flaming Lips in August, which attracted 3,000 people and allowed guests to camp on site.

“We are no longer able to enjoy walking ourselves or our dogs in the park, or playing with children or grandchildren, and meeting neighbors,” the petition states.

“We are barred from entering many areas in the park that belong to the public, those of us who live near and far, many of whose tax dollars have supported the park for decades. We wish to retain the historic nature of the park and easy access to the cemetery that we enjoy visiting.”

Mitchell, who lives about an hour out of town, but owns Vortexyarns on Paseo Del Pueblo Norte and is the chair of the annual Wool Festival that has long been held in Kit Carson Park, said a similar petition distributed at this year’s Wool Festival garnered about 370 signatures.

“Bottom line is we want the park just to be a park, like it’s been,” said Sang Roberson, a group member whose had a home about 500 feet east of the park for 11 years. Her specific concerns include maintenance issues, as well as what she calls an “out of place,” unattractive stage on the edge of the park’s open lawn space.

“I know people don’t like change, but change in the right direction is good. This is the wrong direction.”

The petition features a park map that Mitchell said other Wool Festival operators received from a town employee earlier this year. She said the Wool Festival representatives were told several gray rectangles on the map represent unofficial plans for permanent structures near the park stage to better accommodate large concerts.

However, town manager Rick Bellis told the Journal there are no such plans in place and the organizers are “misrepresenting” the map.

He said aerial view maps are provided to permit holders to show the area’s dimensions. The map at issue, he said, represents the layout for a specific park event and the rectangles represent temporary structures like tents.

Bellis said the park is designed to be available for all of the community’s diverse interests. He said he believes a majority of both businesses and town residents view the concerts as beneficial because of the tourism dollars and entertainment they bring in.

Ticket sales indicate that about half of the people who attend the shows are locals, he said, and past major music events have generated between $1.2 million and $2.6 million in economic impact for downtown businesses.

Stage now year-round

This is the first year the stage’s platform is staying up at the park year-round. Bellis said leaving the stage in place is a cost-saving measure, and the town has built a base under the platform to stabilize it.

The stage was up roughly from April to November in previous years, he said. Bellis described the platform as not a major change and in a largely “unused portion” of the park, though some of group petitioning against the concerts argue it obstructs part of a walk path.

The petition also calls for the removal of perimeter fencing.

Temporary fencing does go up during ticketed events, Bellis said. He said the town hopes to start building permanent perimeter fencing around the entire park by this summer, so only specific event areas need to be blocked from the public.

Other fencing that Mitchell pointed out was up in certain areas of the park between events this summer was there to protect the land during drought conditions, Bellis said.

The petition also recommends other areas to develop for outdoor concerts: town-owned land near the airport north of town; open land near the Taos Mesa Brewing Mothership, also near the airport; and a gravel pit off Salazar Road that the petitioners say was specifically purchased by the town in 2006 to be an outdoor music venue.

However, Bellis said that the town acquired that land thinking it may build an indoor, multipurpose facility there. He also stated that spot has no utilities or parking to accommodate large events.

The park is the best place for the large concerts, according to Bellis, because of its walking distance to downtown. Taos officials want to stimulate more economic growth and activity in the downtown area.

“It’s one of the realities that we try and accommodate people as best we can and get the most use out of the park as best we can,” he said. “It’s a treasure to have a historical park in the downtown, and everyone wants to be there.”

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