When Sumita Dalmia arrived at Piedmont Park Saturday afternoon for Music Midtown, she knew she was going to be in for a long, wet day.
“When we got there, the rain came down pretty hard and we knew we had to make a game-day decision to stay or go. We stayed and decided to go for it,” said Dalmia, a 25-year-old Alpharetta attorney. “But after the rain, it was one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen. … People looked like they had been thrown into a mud pit.”
By many accounts, both informal and official, Saturday’s rain, coupled with the feet of more than 50,000 music fans, caused major damage.
“It was muddy as all hell. People were sliding down the hill,” said Todd De Jong. “It looked like it was completely torn up. There are several sections that have to be completely re-sodded. In the food truck area, people were standing ankle-deep in mud.”
On Monday, the city began the process of fencing off parts of the park — particularly Oak Hill, the Meadow and a path between them — so they can be repaired.
“The park is not destroyed,” said Atlanta Parks Commissioner George Dusenbury. “The park is still functional, but I am not going to deny that it was impacted. We are 100 percent on top of this.”
Dusenbury doesn’t know yet how many acres of the park were damaged, but he said it is a relatively small percentage of the entire 211-acre space.
According to the Piedmont Park Conservancy, a nonprofit that works with the city on park preservation, the Meadow is 20 acres and Oak Hill is 16 acres. Parts of both sections were damaged.
The concert promoter, Live Nation, is responsible for the full cost of remediation, which will begin immediately and include clean-up, fencing, re-sodding and mulching.
“You are probably talking about tens of thousands of dollars. I would be surprised if this hits six figures,” Dusenbury said. “It is not going to cost the city a dime, whatever it costs.”
Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, said his company annually goes through “extraordinary measures” to protect the park, including donating a drainage system in 2012. He said the firm also hired the conservancy this year as a consultant on the placement of the three stages, vendors and fencing.
“Due to the extreme weather that hit on Saturday, we have already met with the park and city multiple times and have begun putting fencing into place to minimize further impact,” Conlon said.
Dusenbury said independent arborists and experts from the state agricultural extension office will also be brought in.
But some park lovers are arguing the ultimate cost is more than money.
“They just came in here and trashed the park,” said Ian Keith, 43, who lives in Old Fourth Ward and rides his bike through Piedmont a couple of times a week. “You have all of those people in that kind of venue, and you can’t control the rain. It is muddy and stinking.”
The conservancy acknowledged such sentiments in a prepared statement.
“As is typical with events in Piedmont, the Conservancy has and will continue to offer counsel on best use and practices for staging events … and repairs,” the statement read. “We are focused on … the process of finalizing a remediation plan.”
For several years, major events at Piedmont Park were banned because of Georgia’s prolonged drought. Dusenbury said that is no longer an issue.
He called Saturday’s storm, which ended around 5 p.m., a worst-case scenario.
“We will learn from this,” he said. “We have done a very good job remediating after events. We just have to find balance between supporting events and protecting the park for everyday users.”
On Saturday night, after the Red Hot Chili Peppers had sung their final note, Dalmia trudged home through the muck, her black leggings caked in brown mud. Her flip flops could not be salvaged.
“No matter how disgusting it was, I had a good time,” she said.
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