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The concrete base for The One Christ Tree was set into Park Avenue, Sept. 21, 2021 in this file photo. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

ENID, Okla. — The one-block area of Park Avenue in downtown Enid now can be used by residents wishing to express their constitutional freedoms, as a large-scale Christmas event in the space already is on the books for this holiday season.

City commissioners approved making the 100 block of Park between Grand and Independence a public forum specifically intended for events to express rights guaranteed in the First Amendment such as free exercise of religion, speech and assembly.

Enid City Attorney Carol Lahman said the resolution solidifies how the space would be used in the future with the appropriate infrastructure already in place, initially done in preparation for The One Christmas event set for the holidays.

“We’re trying to cover all bases from huge, 30- to 40-day, First Amendment activities or commercial speech activities to one-hour events,” she said.

Commissioners on Tuesday also approved transferring $250,000 in general funds that would cover all of the costs for the recent capital improvements to the area meant for The One — including new sidewalks and crosswalks, removable bollards and an excavated receiver well for the event’s 140-foot Christ Tree.

City of Enid CFO Erin Crawford said these projects hadn’t been budgeted for the current year and had needed to be passed as previous change orders on other projects.

“In order for (The One sponsor) Kyle Williams’ family to utilize that space, it needs to be a First Amendment public forum space,” Lahman said. “If we’re going to open it up for one, we’re going to open it up for all.”

She added that because the The One is set to run for six weeks, it might exceed the special event permit use process and likely would need commissioners to approve a use agreement instead.

Lahman said the resolution also complements the major commercial activities set to take place in the nearby town Square such as Enid Lights Up the Plains, First Fridays and celebrations of state and national holidays.

The city already plans to use the Park space for a Yellow Ribbon ceremony as part of Enid’s annual Veterans Day celebration, a proclamation for which Mayor George Pankonin presented Tuesday.

Commissioners also approved creating a new waiver process specific to the area, amending an existing city ordinance that guarantees First Amendment defense to anyone assembling in and possibly obstructing a public place who receives a waiver from the police chief.

Event organizers in Enid already can contact the city manager’s office to obtain a special events permit.

Now, the chief of Enid Police Department also may issue a “First Amendment Limited Use” waiver on short notice to an individual for the closing of Park, between Independence and Grand, for a few hours at a time, if the space is available and not already reserved. The chief would ensure bollards are temporarily placed for the event then removed after.

Enid Police Chief Bryan Skaggs said he didn’t have a problem with the new waiver.

Police officers want to make sure the events and attendees were safe and the traffic flow was “up to par,” Skaggs said.

“All it’s adding onto us is an actual letter,” he said.

Commissioner Scott Orr asked if Enid’s other traditional public forum areas — public spaces owned by the city or county government such as the parks, the downtown courthouse lawn and the city administration building — needed waivers.

The difference between those and the Park Avenue space, Lahman said, is the latter is an actual street and therefore the only space carrying actual traffic that would require a street to be closed under city approval.

The event permit process is not actually required, though, as any public space can still be used for First Amendment purposes without getting city approval or a waiver from the police chief, Lahman said.

In general, though, she added, if an activity is going to require numerous technical elements such as a stage, tents, security, restroom facility, concessions, trash receptacles and traffic aid, event planners will need to use the special event process — “or your event is not going to go well,” Lahman said.

She also encouraged residents to use the waiver process to let the police know so that events wouldn’t be misconstrued. Organizers of Black Lives Matter rallies, held in summer 2020 in front of the city administration building and downtown, had also submitted requests and notices to the city and EPD, Lahman said.

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Ewald is copy editor and city/education reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.

Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Send an email to aewald@enidnews.com.

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