Special Reports

Protests at Intrust Bank Arena limited to three zones

In an attempt to ensure safety while still respecting freedom of speech, county officials have decided to limit protesters at Intrust Bank Arena to three protest zones around the building.

With people protesting Sarah Palin's speech and at two circuses at the arena earlier this year, county officials developed a plan that designates space for protesters without limiting access to the arena for event attendees.

Under the plan, which county commissioners approved Wednesday, two "permitted protest areas" will be established on the south side of the arena along Waterman. Another zone will be established on the north side of the arena at the end of the alley off of William.

The protest zones were placed away from entrances so protesters would not impede access to the arena.

"It gives us all clear lines of who's going to be where and how do we keep things orderly," assistant county manager Ron Holt said. "Yet it lets protesters have their opportunity."

Many attendees don't want to be bothered by protesters when they're at the arena, Holt said, and with heavy traffic around the arena, the plan will keep protesters safe and away from parking lots and driveways.

Having firm guidelines in place will help make law enforcement around the arena easier, said Sedgwick County sheriff's Maj. Michael Oliver

Protesters who refuse to stay in the zones could be arrested for trespassing, he said.

Similar protest zone plans are in place at the Kansas Coliseum and the Sedgwick County Zoo.

Holt said the county initially thought the sidewalks around the arena, which are not under county jurisdiction, would offer enough space for protesters.

But when an animal-rights group contacted the county wanting to set up a place to protest on arena property, Holt said the county began working on a set of guidelines that would cover all future protests.

Oliver said protesters at the arena have been cooperative so far, but the plan will help prevent any possible problems at future events.

"We want to be ahead of the curve," he said.