Gray Highlands considering private rentals for public parks

Given community interest, the council is considering making Vandaleur Park and Maxwell Park available for rental

The Gray Highlands is considering a pilot project that will make some of its public parks available for hire for private functions.

If approved, Vandaleur Park and Maxwell Park – excluding the baseball diamond – will be available to rent for $250 a day, or $500 a weekend, as part of a pilot project that will last two years.

The project is being considered due to public inquiries and feedback, and in light of increased interest in outdoor recreation.

“We’re really trying to test the market here because we’re seeing more interest in outdoor spaces in light of some of the restrictions we’ve faced over the past couple of years,” the director of economic and community development said. Michelle Harris. .

Board and staff members suggested the parks would be perfect for family reunions, weddings, or other private events.

“I can speak from personal experience…over 10 years ago I attended a wedding at Vandaleur Park, and it’s a great place for an outdoor wedding,” councilman Tom Allwood said.

However, some council members were concerned about depriving residents of public space.

“Comments have been made… that since the start of the pandemic there has been a resurgence of interest in outdoor facilities – I agree with that 100%, but that’s why I don’t think I can support that said Councilman Paul Allen. “Renting to people who can afford $250 or $500, or renting to a commercial entity for their financial gain should not…put these parks out of use for our residents for what could be most of summer.

Allen also pointed out that making public spaces available for rent could have a negative impact on local businesses.

“There are also businesses in Gray Highlands that provide meeting space, including outdoor wedding space, that we could compete with,” he said. “I don’t think we should be getting into a business that’s going to harm some of our local businesses, especially over the last two years – there have been closures, there have been restrictions on the size of gatherings.”

Harris pointed out that rentals would be limited and would not be allowed every weekend.

“We would limit the number of reservations you could make…so someone couldn’t own it for the whole year,” she said. “We don’t want to take public space out of the public realm – it was just for family reunions, odd weddings.”

Other council members worried that now might not be the right time to expand the responsibilities of city staff, given staffing issues that have begun to affect operations.

The Markdale Arena will not reopen this month because, according to the city, there are not enough staff to operate all the rinks in the municipality.

“Without any staffing issues, I would be much more supportive of that, but to allocate staffing resources to a pilot when… we have a report that says we can’t open our arenas at the same time, I can’t … do it in good conscience,” Deputy Mayor Aakash Desai said.

Councilor Cathy Little reminded council members that the rentals would only be a pilot project.

“This is being offered as a pilot project,” she said. “There’s an indication of some demand for it, and that would help gauge what uptake would be.”

Council proposed to defer the item to a committee of the whole in March, when an update on the municipality’s recreation master plan will be given to council.

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