The Derby Festival’s decision to charge for seating at Waterfront Park during Thunder Over Louisville doesn’t sit well with at least one city lawmaker, who believes the change will keep working families from attending.
A week ago, festival officials announced that for the first time ever attendees must purchase a $4 Pegasus Pin to enter the north section of the Great Lawn at Waterfront Park to watch the April 16th fireworks show instead of the first-come first-served seating arrangement.
In a stinging statement, however, Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26, said it is unfair for the festival to charge visitors the fee, pointing out that the area is a public park.
“Like other members of the Metro Council, I represent people who could easily afford this new cost for admission. But I also serve families for whom this would be a great burden,” Ackerson said in a press release. “Our waterfront serves as the people’s park, a park (that) their tax dollars helped to build and continues to maintain … We should not allow Waterfront Park and Thunder Over Louisville to be fenced off, placed out of the economic reach for our citizens, especially when the revenues from the sale of the Pegasus Pins are not going to the public coffers.”
There would still be plenty of room for about 50,000 people in the fenced-off area and children age 6 and under will not be required to have the pin, but the councilman still has questions for festival officials about why a fee is necessary.
“First and foremost I want to understand why the action is being taken. If this is a money grab the solution is to keep the status quo,” Ackerson says. “And that’s what it smacks of to me: how can we cover some cost and make some additional money at the expense of working families here in Louisville. The other remedy is once we have all the facts to make this affordable and open to the public again.”
After receiving numerous complaints about attendees being “territorial and confrontational” about protecting their space last year, the changes were based on “security and civility” measures to protect spectators and to avoid the situation from getting out of hand, says Mark Shallcross, a festival spokesman.
“This is not about the economics of the show. It’s about maximizing the prime viewing areas for the public. The less amount of space that is cordoned off, the more people who can comfortably watch the show,” he says. “There are hundreds of acres of free viewing space along the river. The fenced-off portion of Waterfront Park represents less than 10 percent of the public viewing area along the river on the Kentucky side. Any additional revenue generated by the pin admission will go right back into the infrastructure for the show. There are costs associated with the fencing of the lawn – the fencing itself, all-day security and adding amenities and bathroom facilities.”
The verbal jousting is expected to continue at the council’s parks and libraries committee meeting, which has invited festival president and CEO Mike Berry to testify at tomorrow afternoon and Ackerson is expected to attend. The committee meeting is scheduled for tomorrow at 5 p.m. inside City Hall.