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Idaho Springs City Council decided last week that the city will not issue any event permits in 2021, citing COVID-19 concerns and the desire to protect organizers' time and money. Local event …
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UPDATE: After reassurance from the county's public health department the Idaho Springs City Council has revised its decision to not issue special event permits in 2021.
During a March 1 work session, Mayor Mike Hillman and other council members directed staff to issue permits on the condition that applicants have a COVID-19 plan in place and have county public health's approval.
Idaho Springs City Council decided last week that the city will not issue any event permits in 2021, citing COVID-19 concerns and the desire to protect organizers' time and money.
Local event coordinators who were hoping to host safe events this summer were frustrated by the decision, saying the community needs activities to bolster the city's businesses and give residents something to do.
As of Monday, the county, Georgetown and Empire had not made any similar decisions. Georgetown and Empire said any event permits issued would first have to be approved by the county health department and then the towns would conduct their own evaluation.
County staff's preliminary plan is similar, but the commissioners would need to approve it sometime this month.
Clear Creek moved to Level Blue on the statewide COVID-19 dial Friday morning. This level allows for 50% capacity at all events, with a 175-person cap for indoor ones and a 250-person cap for outdoor ones.
Tim Ryan, the county's public health director, said his department has been working one-on-one with event coordinators to ensure applicants have a COVID-19 plan in place.
A few summertime events — not in Idaho Springs — have already received public health's tentative approval, Ryan said, adding that his department will review each event a month beforehand to see whether capacity should be reduced or if anything else needs to be modified.
However, as long as organizers and participants take precautions, Ryan said, “I'm hopeful that (events) can go on.”
The city's decision
During a Feb. 22 work session and meeting, Idaho Springs Mayor Mike Hillman and other council members were worried that organizers would invest time, money and effort into putting together events that could be canceled if Clear Creek's COVID-19 situation worsens.
They were also concerned that these could become super-spreader events and subsequent outbreaks would close local businesses again.
“I don't think it's worth the risk,” Councilman Arthur Caccavale said. “ … I can't see any positive angles to any of this right now.”
Thus, during the 6 p.m. work session, council directed staff not to issue any permits this year.
At the 7 p.m. meeting, though, Sarah Morris Wirtz with the RapidGrass Festival and the rec district's Samantha Dhyne submitted public comment, saying they felt it possible to host safe outdoor events this year. They described requiring a booking system, socially distanced tables, masks and proper signage.
Hillman remarked that the council had already made its decision, reiterating concerns about super-spreader events and not wanting to waste organizers' efforts.
“We have two people who say they can do it right,” he said, referring to Wirtz and Dhyne, “… We can't deny everyone else and allow for you.”
Wirtz asked to work with the city to redesign the events in a collaborative and creative way, but Hillman responded that — given the COVID-19 variants and the general uncertainty about the pandemic — having no events was best for the community's safety.
On Thursday, Wirtz said she was heartbroken about the City Council's decision, and that she and her co-organizers have to decide the fate of RapidGrass.
Wirtz said she'd worked very hard to redesign the festival to have more of a dinner-and-a-show format.
Attendees would have sat at designated tables that were appropriately spaced out, and capacity could have been modified based on what COVID-19 restrictions were in place this summer. She also said RapidGrass would've partnered with local restaurants to provide the food.
The headlining acts were booked, with Wirtz saying she'd worked very hard to reestablish those connections with musical acts and other partners.
Given last week's decision, Wirtz said moving the event would be difficult logistically and — more importantly — go against everything RapidGrass stands for.
“The festival was designed around supporting the community and … putting a positive stamp on the map for Idaho Springs,” she continued.
Hosting a virtual event also seems unlikely, with Wirtz saying that people are tired of looking at their screens all day and need in-person interaction again. It also would be difficult to generate revenue for local businesses that way, she explained.
For the Clear Creek Metropolitan Recreation District, the only change without permits is that it can't physically host businesses at events unless they're food trucks, Dhyne said.
The district will still offer small events throughout the year as planned, such as fun-runs and community skating nights, with a self-imposed 50-person limit, Dhyne explained. However, now, it can't have businesses at the events to serve food and liquor, she said, but the district is looking at partnering with businesses for pick-up orders and/or delivery to its events.
Dhyne added that everything CCMRD hosts is with the public health department's approval, and she anticipates that demand for smaller events will grow as larger events are scaled back or canceled this year.
While Dhyne acknowledged that City Council had to make a difficult decision, Wirtz was frustrated that officials didn't even consider troubleshooting with the community. Wirtz said she would've understood concern about indoor events, but she figured outdoor ones had an opportunity for redesign.
“I really wish there would've been more of an appropriate community-driven conversation … rather than canceling 2021,” she continued.
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