Live to flush another day
It’s official: turkey legs will be on Larkspur’s menu for the next 10 years. The Colorado Renaissance Festival and its host town have declared a truce in a three-year conflict that had the festival owner threatening to pull the popular summer event that gives this tiny Douglas County town with two-thirds of its revenues. “We’re just glad we can get beyond it,” new Mayor Sherilyn West said of the conflict that many saw as a clash between her predecessor and festival owner Jim Paradise. West joined other town board members Sunday in approving an agreement that aims to resolve the sticking points between the two and guarantees that the festival will remain.
“They could have Attila the Hun for mayor, and we’ve still got certainty in how we can operate,” said T.R. Rice, attorney for the Renaissance Festival. He said the trouble began in 2002, when Myrna Been was elected mayor. With the town of 250 wrestling with how to pay for failing water and sewer systems, Been said the festival owed the town nearly $1.7 million in sewer fees and sent Paradise a bill. She said the bill was justified because of the demands the festival put on the town’s water and sewer systems. “All I did was try to make him follow the same rules that everyone else is expected to follow,” she said. In 2003, Paradise filed a lawsuit, arguing that the town expected the festival to be “the deep pocket” that paid for problems it hadn’t created. A Douglas County judge ruled in March that the festival owed about $96,000 in water tap fees but denied the town’s original demand for $1.7 million. At the time, festival officials said they’d had enough of Larkspur and were looking for another host town, possibly Palmer Lake. If Been remained on the board, Rice said, “the festival would be leaving.”
In April, Been, whose mayoral term was up, ran for a seat on the board and lost; West was elected mayor. After the election, the festival decided to stay. Festival officials are happy with Been’s replacement: “She’s been super to work with,” Rice said. Under the new agreement, the festival will remain for another four years, at which time the festival’s land lease expires. Paradise has the right to buy the land from the company that owns it or continue to lease it, Rice said. At that point, another six-year contract goes into effect, with an opt-out option every two years, West said. The agreement also caps sales and admissions taxes paid by the festival at 6 percent. Also, the festival will use two storage tanks it already has for sewage. If that doesn’t help, the town may build a pretreatment sewage plant on land provided by the festival. The agreement also allows the festival to hold three outdoor concerts every year at a site adjacent to the festival site. The agreement, town board member Lester Burch said, is a “win-win.” “I think we’re very important to them, and the town is very important to the festival,” Rice said. With attendees coming from the Colorado Springs area and the Denver area, the town is well situated. Residents said they were glad for the arrangement that keeps the festival in town. “It keeps the town afloat. Without them, we couldn’t survive,” said Randy Lombardo, owner of the Larkspur Corner Market. Been said she was glad to hear of the agreement, but suspects Paradise never meant to leave. “He’s threatened to move that thing for 15 years. Where’s he going to put it?” she said. She never had anything personal against Paradise or the festival, although it wasn’t her kind of entertainment, Been said. “The food is outstanding, but I’m not into Shakespeare and all that crap,” she said. Others obviously disagree, she said. “No one thought that thing would grow to be as big as it is,” said Been. “It’s wonderful it has.” But she said the town ought not to rely on one business for most of its revenue, a point on which West agrees. “It would be nice not to depend on them as heavily as we do,” West said. It was also announced this week that the Renaissance Festival will remain open an extra weekend — Aug. 5-6 — to make up for weather that kept people away earlier in the summer.