SEBASTIAN — The Sebastian City Council on Wednesday night tabled the issue of parking at future public events in Riverview Park, as the owners of the Sebastian Square property on U.S. 1 just south of County Road 512 eastbound had not been contacted about negotiating a lease agreement.
At the next regular City Council meeting on Aug. 26, Sebastian will discuss options to prevent the confusion and anger at future public events that ensued during the July 4th Freedom Festival, when a local businessman’s family charged drivers to park at the event.
As residents arrived for the 4th of July parade and found the parking full on the grounds of Riverview Park, they filed into the “old Beall’s Outlet” shopping center parking lot as they always have, expecting to park for free and walk to Riverview Park. But waiting for them were several individuals — some of them teens — wearing aprons and asking for $5 per car to park, in exchange for a small, red ticket such as one would get in a raffle.
This was repeated when residents came back that evening to watch the fireworks, so some folks paid $10 to park twice for the day in the lot, which is just outside City limits in the unincorporated County.
When asked by a VeroNews.com reporter at the time, the people collecting money said that part of the money was going to “a nonprofit foundation,” which they could not name at the time. The attendants would not identify who they were working for when asked to do so.
Residents became angry and started verbally confronting the attendants, so Indian River County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to investigate and make sure the operation was not a scam. Deputies found that Damien Gilliams, owner of the No Name Bar and other local businesses, and his children had leased out the parking lot for the day for the purpose of charging festival-goers. The operation appeared to be legal, so it could not be shut down.
The City recevied many complaints that day and calls to City Hall afterward about the lack of free parking for the City’s “freedom” festival and the issue has been a topic of discussion at City Council meetings ever since. Gilliams attempted to donate some of the proceeds back to the City and it was refused.
Councilmember Andrea Coy openly criticized Gilliams for the stunt, but she later apologized for the tenor of her comments.
Tonight, the City will take up the issue in earnest to devise a plan to provide free parking for future public events held in Riverview Park. One suggestion that was proposed was for the City to negotiate a lease themselves with the owners of the shopping center.