Words & Deeds

Outlaw Field vs. Ann Morrison Park: Boise concert fight!

The Idaho Botanical Garden has expressed concern that Outlaw Field, pictured, would take a hit from concert competition at Ann Morrison Park. “While we understand that it may not be the intent of the city of Boise to negatively impact the financial stability of the Idaho Botanical Garden, it is not possible for a small nonprofit organization ... to compete with the resources and the subsidization of a concert series hosted at a city park,” executive director Erin Anderson said in a media release.
The Idaho Botanical Garden has expressed concern that Outlaw Field, pictured, would take a hit from concert competition at Ann Morrison Park. “While we understand that it may not be the intent of the city of Boise to negatively impact the financial stability of the Idaho Botanical Garden, it is not possible for a small nonprofit organization ... to compete with the resources and the subsidization of a concert series hosted at a city park,” executive director Erin Anderson said in a media release. Statesman file photo

In the world of imaginary cage matches, a garden picking a fight with a park has never entered anyone’s mind. But here we are, Boise: In one corner, the Idaho Botanical Garden. In the other, Ann Morrison Park.

There’s not much to do but wait in the beer line and watch this outdoor concert drama unfold. Boise Parks and Recreation is soliciting proposals from promoters for an Ann Morrison Park summer concert series, which would happen as soon as 2017. The Garden, which hosts concerts three miles away at its popular Outlaw Field, wants to spray Roundup on the idea.

Nobody is acting unfriendly. But the Garden threw what could be construed as a punch this week by releasing a statement condemning the series. “The Garden opposes the city’s plan to use taxpayer dollars and our taxpayer-funded public parks for restricted-access, for-profit events that serve only to displace park users and limit access to some of Boise’s treasures. Holding a closed event in a public park for private gain is antithetical to the purpose public parks serve. Furthermore, it is specifically prohibited within Boise City Code.”

Um, wait a minute. Boiseans might be accustomed to a tradition of not paying for an event in a park, but Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway says there is no legal barrier. “Our legal team, just to be certain, pored over 1,600 pages of city code,” he says.

Holloway isn’t shocked by the Garden’s stance. But the Garden proactively sending a statement to the media before we’re anywhere near a concert series actually being approved? “I guess I was caught a little off guard that it happened before we had an opportunity to sit down,” he admits. The two sides will meet at City Hall on Monday.

It’s not the city’s job to cave to the wishes of a nonprofit that might be panicking among the pansies a little early.

But we all love Outlaw Field. And the Garden.

The thing to remember is that there is no guarantee that the city will receive any proposals from promoters interested in Ann Morrison Park, and there’s no guarantee that the city will accept a proposal.

Either way, I can’t buy the idea that well-organized music in the park would be detrimental to the public. If I claimed otherwise, I’d be flip-flopping and running for office instead of writing columns. After three events disappeared from Ann Morrison Park in 2012 — including an annual beer festival that essentially got booted — I beat up on Parks and Rec: “Ann Morrison Park once again is a quiet place for a stroll with your walker ... all summer long,” I wrote. “Here’s the big question: Is this what we want the Treasure Valley’s flagship park to be? What sort of events belong there? Any? Who has the right to decide? Most important: Do the fuddy duds at Parks and Recreation need to pop a beer and relax?” (Oops. I’ll buy the next round.)

If a concert series were to happen, Ann Morrison Park would not be closed off, Holloway says. Boiseans who didn’t buy a ticket to the show could sit outside the fenced-in area and listen. How is that not cool?

As for the claim that a concert series is prohibited by city code? That’s a legal-language issue the Garden probably can’t win. There’s already money changing hands in Boise’s park system. People are free to enter the parks while others pay to attend certain fast-pitch softball, baseball and soccer games at Willow Lane and Fort Boise. Boiseans purchased an all-you-can drink cup at that doomed Barley Bros. brew festival at Ann Morrison Park.

In 2016, the intersection of public and private commerce increasingly is described as progressive. A person might ask how the city allowing a concert series at Ann Morrison Park fundamentally is all that different from concerts happening at state-operated venues such as Taco Bell Arena or the Morrison Center.

If the Idaho Botanical Garden wants its watering can to hold water, its most compelling argument is that a competing concert series might threaten Outlaw Field’s existence. That it would slash the Garden’s funding.

If that’s the result of an Ann Morrison Park series, then we’ve failed as a community.

“We’re not out to hurt or harm anybody’s business,” Holloway says. “We’re really not. That’s why we’re going to meet on Monday.”

Is it possible that the two concert venues could coexist?

Based on the city’s list of promoter beatdowns, er, requirements, it’s hard to fathom small shows at Ann Morrison Park working from a cost perspective. (The long list includes donations to charities, a $3 park-improvement fee per ticket and one free concert every year.)

Maybe Ann Morrison Park focuses on larger shows. Outlaw Field’s capacity is only 4,000 people; I’ve heard the assertion that this number might need to be reduced, too, because of traffic issues.

Or perhaps the two venues might target different dates and demographics? Outlaw Field appealed to older fans this summer with Paul Simon, Tony Bennett, Steve Miller and Neil Young. Let’s keep somebody like Justin Bieber corraled at Ann Morrison Park, OK?

“Is there opportunity to work together?” Holloway says. “We’ll see.”

Yep. And I’ll believe there’s a concert series at Ann Morrison Park when I see it.

Michael Deeds: @michaeldeeds

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