Commentary: Piedmont Park is being ‘loved to death’

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

The 2015 Music Midtown just wrapped up Sept. 20 in Piedmont Park ─ the fifth time the music festival has been held in Atlanta’s signature park. Every year, Music Midtown and the surrounding neighborhoods struggle over a myriad of issues ─ from lanes being shut down to the area of the park being closed off before, during and after the festival.

True confessions: I love Music Midtown.

Music Midtown Hozier

Crowds listen to Hozier on Friday – with “Super VIP” area in background (Photo by Maria Saporta)

I have been to every Music Midtown since it began at 10th and Peachtree in 1994. It was such a disappointment when Music Midtown disappeared between 2006 and 2010 ─ leaving Atlanta without a signature music festival.

In 2011, Peter Conlon of Live Nation, announced he was bringing Music Midtown back to Piedmont Park.

Since then, crowds have grown from 35,000 people in 2010 to roughly 125,000 by 2013 – and Music Midtown expanded to three stages over two days

Festival-goers were not deterred in 2013 by a severe downpour that left the normally green meadow a mixture of mud and trash. Sections of Piedmont Park were closed for months as the grounds were restored and the grass took root.

The last two years, the weather has been near perfect. This year, the traffic flowed much smoother than in the past. Despite having four stages, the festival felt less crowded than previous years.

Conlon attributed it to the closure of 10th Street, having more police and learning how to improve it every year. But he did not share attendance figures or talk about what it might mean for Music Midtown in 2016.

Music Midtown - Panic

People listen to Panic at the Disco on Saturday at the Belk Stage (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Music Midtown is a lightning rod in some communities surrounding Piedmont Park. Maybe people resent having a gated, ticketed event that benefits Live Nation rather than Piedmont Park.

Some folks may have a “not in my backyard” attitude. But as someone who has lived within two blocks of Piedmont Park for more than 30 years, I can tell you Music Midtown can’t solely be blamed for stress on park grounds.

The city of Atlanta has allowed so many event permits in Piedmont Park, our special oasis of green often turns into a special events space where cars and trucks are supposed to be prohibited.

At one time, the city and Piedmont Park Conservancy had a strict policy to limit the number of events in the park because it was “being loved to death.”

We have beautiful parks throughout the city that can be used for events ─ and the city should invite organizers to try alternative spaces. We also need to ensure all funds from permit fees go directly into park maintenance and not into the general fund.

Sadly, we have few options to host mega festivals in Atlanta. So we’re left having to shoehorn Music Midtown into our precious and overused Piedmont Park.

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