Activities at Pioneer Park no longer have to end when the sun goes down.

The Salt Lake City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the downtown park's hours to 11 p.m. between May 1 and Sept. 30, allowing for public events in the evenings.

Council members and city staff are counting on an increased effort to deter illegal activities — namely the buying and selling of drugs — that have been known to occur at and around the park.

"I think it creates more opportunities at the park," Councilman Carlton Christensen said of the extended hours. "That neighborhood is evolving in a good way."

The city in recent years has added about $1.5 million in improvements to Pioneer Park, including irrigation and electrical upgrades, new sidewalks, walking and jogging paths, removal of old trees and planting of new ones and the installation of a fenced dog park.

Concerns about public safety and illegal activity at the park led the city in the mid-1990s to close the park daily from 30 minutes after sundown until 7 a.m.

Christian Harrison, president and chairman of the Downtown Community Council, asked the City Council to reconsider making such a drastic change to the park's hours.

The idea for extending park hours stemmed from a suggestion by the Downtown Community Council that power be given to the city parks department to waive the curfew at Pioneer Park for specific events at its discretion, Harrison said.

"I ask you to please do what we asked and not to interject any extra zeal," he said.

Harrison worries that the park remaining open when events are not scheduled will encourage the wrong type of activities and traffic there.

"Right now, a great tide of people leave the park at dusk," he said. "It's like a sci-fi movie. It's delightful. ... I can walk around the park (after dark) with almost no fear."

Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank suggested the seasonal extension rather than a event-based one, saying inconsistent park hours could be confusing to the public and make it more difficult to police.

City officials cite the success of Downtown Farmer's Market on Saturdays as an example of how programming can keep the park populated and active.

In other city business Tuesday:

• The City Council is shuffling funds in the 2008-09 fiscal year budget to maintain fire operations at station No. 5, 1023 E. 900 South.

Mayor Ralph Becker's budget proposes to devote the station exclusively to emergency medical responses, saving about $470,000. It also would allow the station to be utilized as the city's Community Emergency Response Team headquarters.

A majority of the City Council favors a plan that would restructure the CERT program, putting it under the city's emergency management function. That would free up a fire captain to restore structure-fire operations at the station.

• The City Council likely will do away with free parking during evening hours and Saturdays to generate an estimated $300,000 in additional revenue. An estimated $50,000 of that would go toward the additional parking enforcement the changes would require.

• Tuesday night's work session ended with the City Council having about $75,000 in one-time money and nearly $48,000 in ongoing funds to spend.

However, that does not include the estimated $600,000 the council likely will need to find in the budget to cover the increased cost of fuel.

By state law, the City Council must adopt the budget by June 22.


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com