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Back You are here: Home Opinion Opinion Section Editorials Editorial: Freeman Park Not Meant For Large Events

Editorial: Freeman Park Not Meant For Large Events

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

The North End of Carolina Beach (Freeman Park) is a poor choice to permit festivals on the beach of any type. That was not the original intent of creating the park. Yet the Carolina Beach Town Council gave permission in June, despite voicing concerns, to hold a large festival at the park. (See page 1-A; Revolution Festival).
Freeman Park is managed by the Town through an interlocal agreement with New Hanover County. The beach area is located outside of Town of Carolina Beach limits. Years ago it was rarely policed by the County Sheriff's Department.
Influenced by citizen complaints regarding sea turtles and nesting shore birds and the general perceived chaos of vehicles and people driving and partying on the beach, the Town sought to implement a management plan for the area rather than see it closed to vehicle traffic. The general sense of both the County Board of Commissioners and the Carolina Beach Town Council at the time of the adoption of that agreement was to get a handle on visitor activity within that undeveloped area by providing police presence and general management including protection of private property and the sand dunes.  It was not the intent to pave the way for large-scale festivals - even if billed as for charity - to hold mass gatherings in an already heavily populated area of the beach.
Since that time Freeman Park has been bastardized into a profit generating machine for the Town of Carolina Beach pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a "Tourism Fund" reserve account used to prop up numerous portions of the Town's general budget. And when budget times got tough, they raised the rates for vehicle access even higher.
Adding allowances for commercial vendors was ok, but more recent, they've permitted a festival to take place that has over several years grown in attendance by their own admission. From six or seven hundred to almost 3,000.
The Revolution Festival is promoted with a good nature purpose; to generate money for a charitable cause. Yet on their own Facebook page earlier this year and in a public meeting of Town Council, they admitted to raising just $500 towards providing drinking water in a foreign country. That's great! But the UNCW Wing Fling donated $4,000.00 dollars to the Katie B. Hines Senior Center a couple of years ago. A local non-profit. Not that geography matters, it's the $4,000.00 that gets attention. 
But it's not entirely about the amount of money they raise. Some events are structured differently and with the addition of a ticket fee this time, they'll likely make more money.
It's about the Town's image and the fine-line the event organizers are walking in terms of jeopardizing that image.
There were reports of illegal drug use and several people having to be hauled off in an ambulance due to their enjoyment at the event. (a.k.a they got tanked). One case, which has not been attributed directly to the event, is a guy found near the event that ended up in the hospital on a ventilator. It took officials a few days to even identify him to contact his family. He came out ok.
This year they've hired some additional Police to maintain the peace. They previously hired one officer from 8 to 12 due to lack of funds. The police chief recommended four officers, but with all due respect, that recommendation is extremely low. Four officers would have a long wait for backup considering the distance additional officers would have to drive on the street and the beach.
On September 4th, Chief Bartley said the event set for this weekend is hiring 2 officers for Friday and Saturday they're hiring 2 officers from 12 to 6PM and 3 from 6PM to midnight.
Some argue that Freeman Park is normally policed by a couple of officers. That's true, but they are patrolling a busy mile long campsite where people try to separate themselves from each other. That still leads to issues but in the case of 3,000 or more people at an event in a smaller fenced in area, there's a long list of possibilities that could land everyone in a not-so-great situation with only three or four officers placing themselves in harms way. Not a recipe for success, rather it's a firecracker tossed on a smoldering fire... there's a definite risk it will go off.
Town Manager Tim Owens summed up the core issue quite well at the June meeting where Council approved the event.
Owens explained, "I think the biggest concern... is that this is a Town sponsored event. Basically our insurance. If something were to happen to folks, that would be the one to take a hit." He explained, "If it was a non-profit and they had their own insurance and named the Town additional insured, there's less liability for us. But that would be the biggest concern, that you get somebody out there that gets hurt and they sue the Town."
This weekend’s event may go off without a hitch, or something could go wrong. Some have praised the event while others think it's a bad idea overall.
Either way, it should not be a "Town sponsored" event. Let them succeed on their own like every other non-profit that holds large events in Town.
If the Town is going to let them ride on the taxpayers’ liability and insurance policy, then it makes no sense to ask other events to pay for their own liability insurance up to a million dollars in coverage.
One bizarre aspect of this entire issue; the Town's Freeman Park Committee wasn't included in the planning process. Now they're asking why not? It was that committee that helped create the park in the first place.