For the first time in its 23-year history, Afrofest will not be allowed to use Queen's Park for its annual summer music festival, the city of Toronto has decided.
The event is the second to have its request to use the legislature grounds denied this year, amid concerns from officials that the park is getting badly damaged by the numerous festivals it hosts annually.
Afrofest organizers say the move could spell disaster, and that there is nowhere else downtown that can accommodate the festival.
"Going to any other venue would be like taking the festival back to its origins," said president Michael Stohr. "It's known as the African festival at Queen's Park."
In January, the city told Afrofest about several problems it had with last year's event, including the number of vehicles in the park, music that continued later than 11 p.m. and the fact that the festival featured a roller-coaster and Ferris wheel for which organizers didn't get permission.
Mr. Stohr agrees with some of the city's concerns, but says the festival did not play music past 11 p.m. and only had vehicles on site to assist with setting up and cleaning up.
Organizers responded in a letter, but were told via e-mail on Friday that the city would not be issuing Afrofest a permit. They say the city should have been willing to discuss the situation and reach an agreement.
However, city staff say the problems with Afrofest have been going on for years and they haven't been able to resolve them. More than that, the festival has grown too big for the space.
"They've become a victim of their own success, to a certain extent - 50,000 people, they say, which is a crowd large enough to fill the [Rogers Centre]" said parks director Richard Ubbens. "The park simply cannot sustain that number of people."
Over the years, staff have noticed damage to the turf and oak trees, and areas where grass simply won't grow from being trampled too much, he said.
Mr. Stohr is aware of the problems at the park, but says it's a matter of the cumulative effect of numerous events using the space. After 23 years, he says his event should be grandfathered by the city and still hopes staff will have a change of heart.
"The local residents are concerned about [the park]and I think we've unfairly paid the price for that."
The Toronto Freedom Festival, an annual event in early May that calls for marijuana legalization, has also been denied a permit to use Queen's Park this year, with the city citing open alcohol at past festivals and community complaints about open marijuana use.