The great fence at the Great Lawn

Mike Berry, Kentucky Derby Festival

They’re already charging us money to put air in our tires. Airlines smile when they shake us down for putting luggage on planes. Now Kentucky Derby Festival President and CEO Mike Berry and his board is getting in line to make the taxpayers of Kentucky pay to sit on the Great Lawn to watch Thunder Over Louisville.

 If that last sentence doesn’t raise an eyebrow, then check your pulse. The first announcement was that Iroquois Park was eliminated from the Mini Marathon course. That was absurd enough, since the park was part of the tradition of the run, and since the south-end neighbors were the ones who supported the race like no one else.
Now, if the KDF has its way, we will have to shill out dollars to sit in a sectioned off part of the Great Lawn that our tax dollars paid for. Some of the reasoning was that people were hoarding space, getting in line before everyone else, basically doing the American thing and claiming a stake in an event not unlike the great land rush of the American west. And what’s wrong with people — families — getting in line a little early to get the best possible spot to watch the event? Seems to me there are plenty of events where this type of action is glorified. I’m not a shopper, but I’m sure you’ve heard of the big day after Thanksgiving.  Another reason was for security purposes. But if security is an issue, have Mayor Greg Fischer put more officers in and amongst the crowd. It can’t cost that much.
Seriously, the KDF says it’s going to provide a special Pegasus Pin for $4 for people to sit behind the Great Fence on the Great Lawn. So, if, say, 50,000 people pay the four bucks, well, that’s a total of $200,000 (I have to spell this out, folks. I am dealing with the KDF, okay?). But wait, last time I looked, the KDF was a non-profit organization. Huh? Where’s this extra money going? Is there going to be another party after the festival is over we don’t know about? Why couldn’t they just find another sponsor who would be willing to hang a banner from the Second St. bridge? Seems that would’ve solved the financial issues and the PR woes.
But then again, you have to wonder if this is just the first inch. Maybe next year the KDF decides it wants to fence off half the Great Lawn. The year after it’ll be looking for money from the people who park boats on the river.  And then, the next year…well, I think you see where I’m going here. Isn’t this land hoarding, seriously, what we did to the American Indians?
OK, sorry, I know skullduggery is part of the American makeup, but it shouldn’t be part of the Kentucky Derby Festival. On its website, the organization clearly spells out its mission statement in the first paragraph: “…brings fun, excitement, international recognition and a spirit that is unmatched anywhere.”
But where’s the fun in this decision? The spirit? The KDF needs to do its job as quietly as possible — a great job over the years, by the way — and let folks who want to camp out at the crack of dawn do so. If they decide they want to spend their entire life on the Great Lawn roasting a pig, then so be it. But don’t make them sit behind the Great Fence. Don’t make it out to be a security issue. This is about money, plain and simple.
It’s our Great Lawn. Thunder is our event. Don’t let the KDF make another senseless decision, like it did by rerouting the Mini Marathon course.
Here’s Mike Berry’s email address: I’m sure he’d love to hear from you. I’m sure he’s tired of me by now.