A citizens group is fighting proposed changes to how Vancouver’s historic Hastings Park is going to be run.The Friends of Hastings Park oppose all of the city’s options as currently formulated. It is one of the groups behind a public meeting Monday at 7 p.m. at Hastings Community Centre to discuss alternatives.Those alternatives have to be formulated quickly because the city’s next open house on how the park will be run is going to be held April 25.The East Vancouver facility is home to everything from a Japanese garden to a thoroughbred racetrack to the Pacific Coliseum, where the Vancouver Canucks used to play. It is currently being run on an interim basis by the Pacific National Exhibition board — which meets in private, like any corporate board — and whose biggest event is the annual agricultural fair.Linda Shuto, a member of the steering committee of the Friends of Hastings Park, said the people that turned out at the last public consultation on how the park should be run didn’t like any of the options presented.“We feel completely shut out [of the decision making],” said Shuto.The proposed options included having Hastings Park and the PNE operate as a department of the city, as a department of the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation or under the control of a “renewed” Hastings Park/PNE board of directors.Shuto would like Hastings Park to be run like any other park: to provide park space and services in the public interest but in a manner that’s publicly accountable and transparent.“We’re not saying let’s get rid of the Coliseum or get rid of the racetrack,” said Shuto.But she and her group would rather have the park board in charge than the PNE — which is focused on the commercial side of the space.Shuto said the struggling racetrack comprises about 30 per cent of the park. “If it moves, what happens to 30 per cent of the park?” she said.Shuto fears the space could be used to expand Playland, which makes money for the PNE.“If we had a governing body that has a mandate to promote parkland, then there’s a chance 30 per cent of the land might be used for parkland,” she said.Aaron Jasper, vice-chairman of the park board, hasn’t made up his mind about how Hastings Park and the PNE should be governed.“An accessible, green space in that neighbourhood is a top priority for us,” said Jasper, a Vision party member, “Does it have to be governed by the park board or some other arrangement? I’m inclined to see the consultation process unfold.”But John Coupar, a first-time NPA park commissioner, would like to see more park board authority over Hastings.“The original intent was for it to be a park,” Coupar said. “I think the philosophy of a fair within a park, rather than a park within a fair, works best for me.”NPA city councillor George Affleck is sympathetic to citizens’ concerns, but he’s also concerned about the Hastings/PNE bottom line.“I feel it’s run quite efficiently with the least cost to the taxpayer under the current structure,” said Affleck.“Input from the neighbourhood is important,” he said. “I totally respect their opinion, but the PNE and the fairgrounds and Hastings Park [are] for all of Vancouver and so we have to keep that in mind.”
The PNE does not comment on its own governance, according to a spokeswoman.