Community Fights Against Alcohol at Parks Events

Days prior to the R&B concert event ‘Groovin’ in the Park’, civic leaders, residents, elected official representatives and Southern Queens Parks Association (SQPA) board members met with representatives from the Parks Department to discuss authorizing alcohol as part of the event.

The community’s position was clear.  No alcohol. 

Although NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver’s presence was requested, Queens Borough Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski was the designated representing official.  She was apologetic about another appointment she had that would mean leaving the meeting early. 

The issue at hand was whether the promoter would be able to add alcohol to the event slated to take place in three days.  Alcohol would be in the form of four two ounce wine samplings which would be reserved for the event’s VVIP and VIP sections and not for the general ticket holders at large.  There would be an estimated 1500 concert goers and samplings would be tracked by a wristband system. 

In order to have this item attached to the event, the promoter was required to fulfill three requirements:  reach out to the local community, provide a site security plan and have a license from the NYS Liquor Authority.  At the time of the meeting, the promoter had only done one of those three items, provided a site security plan. 

It was a who’s who of community leaders that gathered for a heated conversation in opposition to granting authorization to the promoter including civic organizations in closest proximity to Roy Wilkins Park: Addesleigh Park Civic Association, St. Albans Civic Association and Greater Tri-Angular Civic Association.

The community was concerned about ‘Groovin’ and alcohol because it was outside of the scope of the mandates regarding liquor at events.  Furthermore, the promoter did not do his due diligence in order to be in compliance with the waiver by reaching out to the community and obtaining a liquor license.  As other promoters are lining up for the same types of alcohol provisions, there is a concern that there is no standing policy.  Most who gathered in favor of the community were clear that they were not against alcohol being served at events, but rather at the manner in which this particular case was being decided. 

“A policy needs to be established,” said Andrea Scarborough, Addesleigh Park Civic Association.  “Follow the law that is in place”.

Policy aside, those in attendance not in favor of granting the waiver felt that the addition of alcohol burdened an event already plagued with issues. 

“Who knows what affect alcohol adds,” said Scarborough. 

Concerns surrounding the event included loud noise that begins early in the day with sound checks and is followed by a concert which lasts well into the late hours.  A myriad of parking issues arise as concert goers use and block driveways, park multiple cars at dead ends and double-park throughout the neighboring community causing residents to be trapped in their homes less they lose a parking space.  Other issues were the garbage left behind and a parade of unlicensed merchants who congregate along Merrick Blvd. 

There was concern that SQPA was acting independently of the community.  “SQPA being run like a private club.  We don’t know what is going on.  We see a sign, buses or vans.  We deserve better than this.  This is a first class community,” said Archie Spigner, former Council Member, to applause, about not learning of upcoming events until he sees signs in the community.

The community also wondered, why now?

“Prior to this year, there have been no efforts to serve alcohol.  What changed that?  They make a fortune off this community.  Why is it different this year to sell alcohol,” asked Elmer Blackburne.

Many who gathered felt that there was a clandestine effort by elected officials to push alcohol at events, with Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman’s name dropped frequently an agent in that effort.  Their evidence of such included the speed and secrecy of the initiative coming to pass, especially in light of an approved liquor license.  Some even asked why Council Member Ruben Wills’ office, who supported the authorization, had a representative at the meeting as his District does not include Roy Wilkins Park.

The community proposed a town hall, post event, to talk with promoters about issues and concerns surrounding the event.  Community Board 12, which is remaining neutral on the subject, was willing to host such the event.

“Before you weigh in on something as important as this, wait, hear from the community,” said Scarborough. 

Lewandowski suggested a larger conversation including a stakeholder group would be beneficial when moving forward on events in Roy Wilkins Park.

By the end of the meeting, most felt the decision would support the promoter and the event would move forward with alcohol.  The next day, the Park Department’s press office confirmed the decision to approve the ‘Groovin’ event with alcohol. 

The City, with SQPA, has authorized the sampling of wine in the designated VIP areas only, for this weekend’s event. Please note that the event promoter has approval from Parks, but also requires a permit from the State Liquor Authority.

The Parks department gave no rationale for their decision, despite being asked. The NYS Liquor Authority did not grant the promoter’s request.  The concert took place without alcohol.

This meeting took place on Thursday, June 22 at Roy Wilkins Park.  Groovin the Park took place on Sunday, June 25 at Roy Wilkins Park.