Feature Article - September 2018
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Eat, Drink & Be Merry

Making a Great Event

By Dave Ramont


"The Partnership markets hyper-locally," Sawicki said. "We are really here to drive economic activity and bring local people into downtown St. Charles to shop, dine and engage."

Putting on events is one way to achieve this goal, and the DSCP oversees the St. Patrick's Parade, Jazz Weekend, Holiday Homecoming/Electric Christmas Parade and more. But their signature event is the Fine Art Show, featuring local and national artists, taking place over Memorial Day weekend. According to Sawicki, the show has created a brand for itself, with people attending from all over the Chicagoland area. "We bring about 30,000 people to downtown throughout the weekend. All of the artists are juried by the committee, which is all local volunteers, and we have around 100 artists each year. We do not have outside food vendors at this event, as we encourage people to try out local restaurants and stay and enjoy all that our downtown has to offer."

Sawicki explained that whenever they host an event, they have an "event review" meeting. "This meeting includes the city, fire, police, public works and finance. We also partner with the history museum, the park district, the chamber, CVB, River Corridor, Arts Council and more. We also have representation of those groups on our board of directors to encourage collaboration and not have overlap with planning."

She also said they have full emergency plans and procedures for each event. "We always try to stay ahead of any issue and plan for the worst so that we aren't surprised if anything goes wrong. It's a lengthy and tedious process, but very necessary when it comes to safety."

In 1945, Fruita, Colo., resident Lloyd Olsen set out to ready a rooster for dinner, but after losing his head, the bird continued to stalk around, pecking for food. He went on to live 18 more months, being fed with an eye dropper and gaining five pounds. The famous bird embarked on a national tour, with onlookers paying 25 cents for a view. And now, the chicken's spirit is celebrated every June at the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival.

Tom Casal, recreation superintendent for Fruita Parks and Rec, said that people from all over visit the festival, including Florida, Michigan and Canada, plus lots of folks from the Denver area. "The festival works because we bring in quite a lot of people who stay in our hotels and eat in our restaurants."

Casal said he starts readying for the event about eight months out. "I start talking with potential sponsors. When January hits, that's when we really start going, however. So about six months out for the actual planning part."

From big cities to small towns, it seems like every neighborhood or community these days puts on their own festival, which might feature carnivals, live entertainment, parades, arts and crafts, and, often the most popular attraction, food. They all have one thing in common: To be successful, a lot of foresight and planning goes into the event.

The fest features a 5K run, disc golf tourney, live music, artisan booths, car show, poultry show, chicken poop bingo and a wings-and-Peep-eating contest. Casal said they clean out the local Wal-Mart of Peeps the day after Easter. "The kids love them and it is fun to watch them participate in the contest. It's geared toward kids, but this year we had a successful Adult Division."

He said they stick with the popular events, explaining that they had riding lawnmower races for a time but they got stale, and the popular sand volleyball tourney, with the sand placed in the street, faced problems with wind. "We did try a three-on-three basketball tournament and cornhole tournaments but it's tough with a limited staff to bring on new events."

Casal said that like any other Fruita event, a special event application gets filled out and turned in to the Parks and Rec department. "We review it to make sure it's complete and send it out to public works, parks, police and fire to review. In addition, the event organizer will have a pre-event meeting with us. We use private security during our event, but we also have a uniformed officer. Public works provides our traffic control plan and setup for road closures."

Fruita has seven full-time park staffers, who all have many responsibilities beyond the festival, so Casal said they rely heavily on others to make the event work. "We work with the Rotary Club to take care of the alcohol permit and sales. The Lions Club does a pancake breakfast, and the Poultry Club takes care of the poultry show. Without these outside groups, it would be impossible to pull this festival off."

In fact, it is strongly suggested that event organizers utilize the time and talents of volunteers. Besides the work they do, they also represent a cross-section of the community and help make the event a civic celebration. Casal said they're fortunate to have a local group called RSVP who provides volunteers, staffing entrances and providing information to festival-goers. Wagner said that among other duties, their volunteers also assist with information and conduct surveys of attendees.

Sawicki said they have more than 200 volunteers each year and couldn't do any event without their help, since their office only has four staff members. "We're lucky that our current volunteers are our best and most effective recruits. Our committees have a lot of fun accomplishing a goal and putting together a successful event, and the community wants to be a part of that."