Pit use put on hold
The City Council has suspended activities at the site known as the pit until policies governing liability insurance and other requirements are put in place.
City officials said they’ve had at least two requests to use the site in the next month, following the Dinner with a Side of Culture event held on Monday that drew a few hundred people.
City legal staff is reviewing a proposed application that prospective users of the pit would have to fill out to obtain a permit.
Officials said they want the pit to serve as a site that draws people downtown and don’t want to impose conditions that would make it too costly for users.
At the same time, they stressed that the city has to protect itself from lawsuits and other liabilities because the pit is public property.
“The biggest issue, from a legal standpoint, is the question about liability insurance. Generally, that is something we require of anyone that does business with the city,” said City Attorney JoAnne Carlyle.
Officials said another issue with the site has to do with the fact that it is surrounded by private property. The city-owned portion comprises about three acres: the parking lot on W. High Avenue, a lower level that is accessible on Commerce Avenue and an area along a walkway to the site off N. Main Street.
“We have put up temporary fencing and will follow up with permanent fencing,” said interim City Manager Randy McCaslin. “We can’t put up fencing that will keep people off all the private property.”
Liability insurance could cost applicants from about $250 to as much as $700 if they want to serve alcohol at an event.
“Could the city take out a liability policy and make that part of the fee we charge?” asked Councilman Jason Ewing.
Council members said they hoped the pit permit application will be ready for their review and possible adoption as soon as next week.
“I think we need a space, but I think we have to have something in place and, until then, you can’t use it,” said Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall. “We have a responsibility to protect the city the best we can.”
Ryan Saunders, who said he has been working for a year to get city approval to use the pit, said the new requirements are another example of the city imposing obstacles that stifle revitalization efforts.
“The type of event we had on Monday under this policy wouldn’t be possible because of the types of expenses you would incur in the application process,” he said. “A free movie in the park or a community picnic or anything like that, it’s really unfair to ask private citizens to incur those costs because there’s no way they could recoup it.”