Organizations ask permission to use park for large gatherings

  • The stage at Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park is an in-demand venue as organizations look to planning future events.
    The stage at Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park is an in-demand venue as organizations look to planning future events.

With limits in place regarding the number of people who can attend events under “phase two” of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening plan for the state’s economy, local organizations are reworking plans for future fundraisers and ticketed events.

The stage at Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park has become an in-demand venue due to its relatively large capacity and open-air seating, which fit within the state’s COVID-19 regulations.

On Friday, the Town of Highlands Rec Committee heard a pair of requests from organizations hoping to use the park. The first came from Highlands Festivals Inc., which traditionally puts on the Highlands Food and Wine Festival.

The plan, according to committee member David Bock, is to host a scaled down two-day event on the same weekend that Food and Wine was originally scheduled (Nov. 13-14). The event will be more in line with a spring music festival the group was planning when COVID-19 shuttered all large gatherings.

“We are planning for this to be a ticketed event with a limit of 1,000 tickets sold,” Bock said. “In order to start planning, lining up bands, etc., we need to know whether or not we will be able to use the park for Nov. 13-14.”

Highlands commissioner Marc Hehn voiced concerns that having 1,000 people at an event is not allowable under the current COVID-19 regulations, and that medical professionals he has spoken with have advised against approving large gatherings until at least the end of July.

“The reason we need to go before the town board this month is a simple matter of logistics in order to plan the event itself,” Bock said. “We are aware of the regulations in phase two and also in phase three, whenever the state moves into that next phase. We can pull the plug on the event if it’s not possible in November, but we need to plan as if it will be allowed.”

The second request to use the park stage was made by Highlands Performing Arts Center Executive Director Mary Adair Trumbly.

“Some of our performers have reached out to us about doing shows later in the year, and under the current social distancing guidelines we can only have 25 percent of our capacity at the PAC, which is about 60 people,” Trumbly said. “If we use the outdoor stage at the park we can increase the number of people allowed to attend.”

Trumbly added that the proposed performances would take place Sept. 6, Sept. 22 and Oct. 3.

Parks and recreation director Lester Norris noted that Sept. 6 is not an available date because it is town policy not to allow the park to be closed for outside events on holiday weekends, including Labor Day. He also voiced some concern that if organizations are allowed to use the park for ticketed events, there may be a swell of requests, and the town can’t allow exceptions for one group and not the next.

Hehn asked for a full list of every event that is scheduled for Founder’s Park and those who have requested to use the facility. Norris said he would prepare the list for tonight’s town board meeting. The rec committee gave consensus for the two requests presented Friday to move forward to the town board of commissioners.