Easter in the Park back on; so is Creek Craze

EASTER PARADE | The pooch parade, a picnic and a concert by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in Lee Park are an Oak Lawn tradition.

After Easter in the Park was dismantled, the Lee Park Conservancy and Cedar Springs Merchants put it back together

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The annual Easter in the Park picnic, Pooch Parade and concert that draws hundreds to Lee Park each Easter Sunday nearly unraveled before being put back together this week.

Groups that were competing just a few days ago are now working together to stage two Sundays of events in Lee Park.

While final funding is not yet in place, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert in Lee Park that begins a series of free outdoor concerts will remain on Easter Sunday. What had been billed as “family-friendly” events the week before — including an Easter egg roll for children, concessions and vendors — will take place on Palm Sunday.

While the two weekends were still in competition last week, John Williams, president and CEO of the Lee Park and Arlington Hall Conservancy, put the best face on it and said he preferred to think of the weekends as “bookended Easter week events.”

That’s not how some members of the LGBT community in Oak Lawn saw it. “Family-friendly” was taken as an anti-gay buzzword, and detractors described TCA as homophobic, calling the Easter in the Park event including the Pooch Parade “hijacked.”

The Conservancy operates Lee Park while the Turtle Creek Association, a neighborhood group that has landscaped medians along Turtle Creek Boulevard and Lemmon Avenue near Lee Park to supplement city services, runs events — including the popular Easter in the Park.

Most of the concern in the LGBT community centered around moving the Pooch Parade — an event started by the LGBT community — to an event that most in the LGBT community had no interest in attending or that they perceived they were not welcome to attend.

TCA renamed it the Pet Costume Contest that would be hosted by 98.7 KLUV’s Jody Dean.

Williams said the Conservancy understands how seriously members of the community treat their canine family members, which is why his group created a special membership category for dogs.

Keith Nix, a gay board member of TCA, said that “family-friendly” meant all families and the LGBT community was certainly welcome. They wanted to create an Easter event for children but no slight, he said, was ever intended.

After calls from Dallas Voice, Williams met with the representatives of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association and with David Berryman, who has worked with Dallas Tavern Guild for years and was grand marshal of the 2010 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade. Berryman operates a company called Bravo Event Group.

Williams was concerned because the DSO had not been contacted about the date change and the orchestra was still scheduled to perform on Easter Sunday. The orchestra had $60,000 committed to setting up and performing in Lee Park that day, with or without an audience.

To put Easter Sunday back together, Williams convinced TCA to call the events in the park on Palm Sunday something other than Easter in the Park. They’re billing it now as Creek Craze.

On Monday, Williams, Berryman and TCA President Cathy Golden met with Mayor Dwaine Caraway’s chief of staff, Chris Heinbaugh.

In previous years, the Park and Recreation Department picked up the cost of the Pooch Parade. This year, that department is short of funding, affecting both weekends’ dog events.

The city agreed to pick up some of the costs including permits for Easter in the Park.

However, Berryman, who became the event coordinator this week, said that they are scrambling to find underwriting.

In the last year, his company staged the successful Cedar Springs Super Street Party, the annual Christmas Stocking Auction at the Round-Up Saloon and the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade and Festival in Lee Park.

But Berryman had much longer lead times to line up sponsors.

He said that he has budgeted $14,000 to cover required expenses including police and medical, printing, street closure, insurance, port-o-potties, clean up and trash removal. Off-duty police officers, he said, must be hired based on the number of people expected at the park. By city ordinance, two Dallas Fire and Rescue EMTs and an ambulance must be on hand.

Recent changes to city ordinances do not allow volunteer squads.

Scott Whittall, president of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, said, “We’re trying to get it underwritten,” and he said he was confidant the money would be found.

Berryman said that permits must be in place so that people can drink in the park. Open containers are not allowed in city parks without special event permits. If funding did not materialize and Easter in the Park falls through, picnickers watching the DSO could be issued citations if caught with alcohol.

But Williams said that other than underwriting, the event is already organized.

“We’re just waiting for funding,” Williams said on Thursday morning.

He said he was working directly with Heinbaugh and they have been in touch daily this week. The mayor’s office is helping them line up title sponsors for both events.

“We have everything in place, so as soon as the money’s there, we’re ready to go,” Williams said.

By the middle of the week, TCA, CSMA, Dallas Tavern Guild and the Conservancy were planning to cross-promote each other’s weekends.

In the long run, John Williams said, he thought this brought a number of disparate groups together that would work with each other in the future.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Easter in the Park to go forward as scheduled despite rumors, but Pooch Parade still up in air

The Pooch Parade in Lee Park.

Despite rumors and after some behind-the-scenes negotiating, Easter in the Park will take place as usual on Easter Sunday, April 24.

The Turtle Creek Association, which has staged the event for years, decided to move some of the activities to the Sunday before Easter, April 17, for a family-friendly event. While some members of the LGBT community took that to mean gay-unfriendly, Keith Nix of TCA assured everyone that “family” means all families.

The April 17 event will include a DJ and an Easter egg roll for children.

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra will begin its season of free concerts in city parks with its Easter Sunday concert in Lee Park. According to Lee Park and Arlington Hall Conservancy President and CEO John Williams, that event has not changed. Vendors will be at the park selling food and drinks, and he encouraged everyone to come with their blankets for the annual picnic.

What is still not resolved is the Pooch Parade. The Turtle Creek Association was planning to move the Pooch Parade to the week before Easter, April 17. After an outcry from the LGBT community, the Cedar Springs Merchants Association met with the Conservancy last Friday.

On Monday, all of the groups involved met with Chris Heinbaugh in Dallas Mayor Dwaine Caraway’s office, about funding. The expense involved includes a required number of Dallas police to close Turtle Creek Boulevard and provide security. Cleanup also must be provided professionally, not with volunteers, by city ordinance.

More on Easter in the Park and the fate of the Pooch Parade in Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  David Taffet