Figuring out who gets to use Spencer Smith Park

By Pepper Parr

December 8th, 2023



When the city decided that the Food Truck Festival wasn’t going to be allowed to host their event in Spencer Smith Park there was a hole in the schedule of events.

Who would use the space? – Whoever it is they would have to keep the BDBA happy.  That organization managed to ensure that the hospitality sector was given every opportunity to re-build and recover from the Covid19 damage.

A great park that is well managed. Determining the direction for the future is now before Council.

The issue before Council was to approve:

Direct the Director of Recreation, Community and Culture to pause the allocation of additional events at Spencer Smith Park until the comprehensive development of a Festivals and Events Policy in 2024.

Every year, the Festivals & Events office receives numerous requests from organizers wanting to host new events in Spencer Smith Park (SSP). Due to recent discussions at the Council regarding events held downtown, there is currently no established policy to prioritize one event over another. For the upcoming 2024 event season, there are several requests for new events, and some existing events are also looking for space in Spencer Smith Park (SSP) to benefit from the amenities offered by this premium park space.

The current process for event approval relies on historical use of the space and the event organizer’s compliance with the Special Event Team (SET) annual review.

Sandra Maxwell – Manager, Festivals & Events

Approval is granted under Delegated Authority by the Manager of Festivals & Events, assuming the event continues without significant changes. However, new events with an attendance of over 1,000 or significant changes to existing events trigger a community consultation process. This process informs residents and stakeholders about expected impacts and provides them with the opportunity to voice concerns. These concerns are addressed in advance, in consultation with the local Ward Councillor.

Park recovery time is also considered when reviewing booking requests in SSP. Major festivals are not scheduled back-to-back to allow Roads, Parks & Forestry (RPF) staff to perform necessary maintenance or repair damage. Smaller, less invasive events, such as walks and runs, are scheduled between larger ones as they have minimal impact on the grounds and don’t require added time for park recovery.

In most years, this approval system means that no new events can be accommodated in SSP during the spring/summer season because the park is fully booked with existing events.

Food Truck Festival drew good crowds – offering food and beverages that were comfortably priced. Burlington Restaurant Association felt the Food Trucks were taking business away from the brick and mortar operations.

However, due to the removal of Burlington’s Food Truck Festival and the former Children’s Festival event delivered by the City, there are potentially two open weekends; the weekend of July 20th (Food Truck) and the weekend of August 17th (Children’s Festival) that could be considered. Criteria for allocating space in the future will be developed through a new Festivals and Events policy for Council’s endorsement planned for 2024.

In the meanwhile, we are presenting the new event applications received for 2024 to Council for their awareness.

The event applicants seeking space in SSP for 2024 are as follows:

Council has dedicated significant time to deliberating on events and expressing the goal of distributing them across the city. Spencer Smith Park (SSP) consistently stands out as the most coveted location for event organizers, thanks to its prime location and amenities, including hydro, water, parking, and, of course, its expansive open space.

Furthermore, through these discussions, Council has pinpointed specific criteria that are considered vital for the city, such as promoting multiculturalism and inclusivity.

The following options may be considered by Council:

Council may choose to support any of the new events from the 2024 listed applicants in this report, and prioritize decision-making based on community needs. Approval can be granted for the event to commence in 2024, with an understanding that the event will likely seek continuation in subsequent years.

Alternatively, Council may choose to pause the introduction of any new events in SSP until specific criteria and a policy are developed to guide future decision-making processes in 2024. This approach allows for a more strategic and informed allocation of space in the park.

Event organizers are financially responsible for events held on public property. This includes covering all costs associated with running the event, as well as any expenses related to the use of City resources that support their event.

Events held in Spencer Smith Park (SSP) usually generate a lasting positive effect on businesses in the downtown core. Visitors often explore the downtown area and nearby establishments, contributing tourism dollars to the region. Additionally, many events incorporate local fundraising initiatives that directly benefit the community. It’s worth noting that the City charges a rental fee for the space used in SSP, covering both set-up and tear-down days before and after each event, as applicable.

RibFest fills the Park

Events taking place in Spencer Smith Park (SSP) necessitate varying levels of support from the Roads, Parks & Forestry (RPF) staff, contingent on their size and scale. This support is determined through a work order initiated by the Parks Supervisor and might involve staff working overtime or additional personnel to assist with major festivals.

Additionally, substantial staff time and resources are allocated to restore park grounds after hosting a major festival.

The introduction of new events affects members of the City’s Special Events Team (SET), who are responsible for scrutinizing all elements, approving site plans, and considering every aspect of a new event. This process demands a considerable amount of time compared to existing events with a proven track record in hosting events in Burlington, as they already comply with established requirements and expectations.

Staff connected with new event applicants to help determine suitability of the space request and gauge whether another location in Burlington might be considered by the applicant if they potentially were not successful in securing space in SSP in 2024. The result of this consultation is outlined in each event’s description under the Background & Discussion section within this report.

The substantial demand from external event organizers wanting to host events in Spencer Smith Park has led to a supply and demand challenge. Historically, the park has been fully booked during the bustling summer season, leading to the rejection of new event requests. For the upcoming year, our team will concentrate on crafting a Festivals and Events policy, aiming to establish clear criteria for the approval and support of events in Burlington, outlining specific parameters related to their timing, location, and nature. Until such criteria are established, staff believe it is prudent to refrain from introducing new events to this venue, as detailed in this report.

Related news story:

Spencer Smith Park Schedule




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5 comments to Figuring out who gets to use Spencer Smith Park

  • David

    As I’ve mentioned I use the beach in the summer probably three full days in a week and sometimes on a weekend. There are approx 200 parking spaces that are linked to ‘Honk’ (parking fee’s only apply on weekends) at $20 avg for the day, the frustrated drivers who are unable to get a space take the risk and park across the road on the empty regional parking spots, approx another 200 cars.
    In the week the amount of cars parked drops to approx 100 per day.

  • David

    Spencer Smith park is a reflection of the downtown core, the city intent on cramming everything and anything into a relatively small space. I’m actually dreading what they have planned for the beach strip. It’s the only place left for me to enjoy reading a book and for families to enjoy a traditional day at the beach.

  • Grahame

    I think that the first priority should be to use the park as a place for people and families to relax -enjoy the view – throw a ball or frisbee around-eat a packed meal-enjoy some peace and quiet.
    Aside from Sound of music I don’t think we need carnivals and the gluteny of rib fests.

    • Lynn Crosby

      Agree! Every time they have another festival, regular residents lose the park for the uses you cite. Considering we have not nearly enough greenspace and the plan apparently is to cram tens of thousands more residents into yardless condos, this space should be first and foremost for regular park use for residents of Burlington.

      • Gary Scobie

        I agree with both Lynn and Grahame. I love Spencer Smith only when it isn’t crowded with needless “civic parties” other than The Sound of Music which is a truly City event. Any other time, I head over to Beachway Park and walk to the “real” pier at the canal for a quite walk. Or else lately, go to Burloak Park for an enjoyable and uncrowded family-oriented lakeside experience superior to Spencer Smith IMO.

        And BTW, if you want privacy by the water, go out on the Burlington Pier for a short walk and view of all the condo construction from now till 2035! You’ll nearly always be alone since hardly anyone goes there. We actually only built it for postcard views advertising Burlington.