Salt Lake City leaders want to see more activity after dark at Pioneer Park but only the legal kind.
The City Council is considering extending the downtown park's hours during summer months to 11 p.m. to allow for public events in the evenings.
The hope is that community events at Pioneer Park after dark will wrestle away control of the gathering place from those using it as a site to buy and sell illegal drugs.
Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank said the city has been successful in reclaiming the park during the Downtown Farmers Market, which runs 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays in June through October.
"From a policing standpoint, we see very little illegal activity (during the farmers market)," Burbank said.
Councilman Van Turner suggested that an evening farmers market be added on Friday nights. Public events could be scheduled on other nights to make sure the park remains populated and active, Turner said.
"Everyone wants to use that park," he said. "If we get creative, take a risk and put some real activity there, that may be just what that park needs."
The request to keep Pioneer Park open later came from the Downtown Community Council, as well as residents and business owners near the park who want to use the green space and sponsor events.
During a City Council work session Tuesday, city staff presented a plan to allow the park to stay open until 11 p.m. for special events on a permit basis.
Chief Burbank said he prefers a seasonal extension rather than a event-based one because the changing hours of the park could be confusing to the public and make it more difficult to police.
Christian Harrison, president and chairman of the Downtown Community Council, said he believes such a drastic change is a bad idea. The community council is advocating for power to be given to the city parks department to waive the curfew at Pioneer Park for specific events at its discretion, Harrison said.
"Let's go in baby steps," he said in an interview. "My goal is that eventually the park is open late most nights of the week because there are activities going on. I don't want to open the park late and hope for activities. I want activities to come to push the door open."
Harrison worries that the park remaining open when events are not scheduled will encourage the wrong type of activities to take place in the park.
Concerns about public safety and illegal activity at the park led the city to shorten its hours in the mid-1990s, according to a city staff report. At the time, there was "no constructive public use, such as events or community activity" taking place at night or on weekends, the report states.
The city in recent years has added about $1.5 million in improvements to Pioneer Park, including irrigation and electrical upgrades, new interior sidewalks, walking and jogging paths, removal of old trees and planting of new ones, and installation of a fenced dog park.
The City Council likely will vote in the issue in June.The first Downtown Farmers Market of this year is scheduled for June 14 at Pioneer Park. A celebration of recent improvements for the park also is planned for that day.