Chesterton Tribune

No place like home? Wizard of Oz Festival revived in Chesterton

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The Wizard of Oz Festival is a go, at least so far as the Chesterton Town Council is concerned.

At their meeting Monday night, members voted 4-1 to approve a contract with the Duneland Business Initiative Group (DBIG), the basic terms of which grant DBIG the use of Thomas Centennial Park and the Downtown on Sept. 19-20 for the purpose of holding the festival.

Member Dave Cincoski, R-3rd, voted against the motion, largely on the grounds that, though he approves in principle of the festival’s returning to Chesterton, he would prefer to see it a one-day affair.

The salient terms of the contract:

*The venue shall be identical to that of the former festival: Broadway from South Calumet Road to Fourth Street, Third Street from Broadway to West Indiana Ave., Second Street from Broadway to West Indiana Ave., and South Calumet Road from West Indiana to the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks.

*The Chesterton / Duneland Chamber of Commerce may operate its European Market on Saturday, Sept. 19, if it wishes to do so.

*DBIG may not charge an admission to the festival but may ask for donations. Anyone who declines to donate must be given admittance.

*No alcoholic beverages may be sold.

*DBIG must provide proof of liability insurance with a general aggregate of $2 million and must indemnify the Town of Chesterton from any loss and to defend any claim or lawsuit brought against the town as a result of the festival.

*The town has the right to refuse any concession booth or event, with responsibility for this determination delegated to the chief of police.

*DBIG is responsible for repairing any damage to public rights-of-way caused by the festival. It must also deposit with the town the sum of $500 to be applied to the repair of any damages at least 10 days prior to the festival.

*DBIG must pay to the town a fee of $25 for each space rented to vendors, “intended to defray significant expenses incurred by the town resulting solely from this festival.”

*DBIG must pay all costs of electric and water service for the festival.

*DBIG may hire municipal employees at a rate of $25 per hour to be paid directly to the employees.

*DBIG must arrange and pay for all refuse disposal.

Cincoski

Cincoski did vote against the motion to approve the contract, although he made clear to begin with that “in no way, shape, or form am I against Oz.” Instead, he said, “I don’t believe it needs to be a two-day event.”

Cincoski opened his comments with a few statistics. Around 76 percent of Downtown businesses are open on Saturday but not on Sunday. Of those 76 percent, moreover, only around 40 percent are likely to see any benefit from the festival, he said.

Cincoski also noted that the Popcorn Festival in Valparaiso is now a one-day event but in his survey of Valpo motels determined that they see not only a bump in business on the Friday night prior to the fest but also a discernible one on the Saturday night after it.

“If nothing else,” Cincoski concluded,” “this year could be a stepping stone for next year.”

His colleagues, however, disagreed. Member Jim Ton, R-1st, voiced his belief that the only way for an apples-to-apples comparison to be made to the old Oz and the new one is to give the new one two days. “I believe they should have the chance to see what they can do with a two-day fest,” he said.

For his part Member Jeff Trout, R-2nd, cited the often quoted figure that in its glory days the Oz Festival brought area businesses $3 million. DBIG, he said, should identify those businesses and “ask them to help fund this. They should pay their fair share” too. He added that the Porter County Convention, Recreation, and Visitors Commission would do well to “pony up” as well, at least “with some seed money.”

A Bit of History

In fact members spend most of their time on Monday, in their discussion of Oz, setting the record straight, yet again, about the chain of events which led Lakeshore Festival Events (LFE) Inc.--the not-for-profit which came to operate the fest--to leave Chesterton and re-locate at the Porter County Expo Center.

Contrary to a recent report in another newspaper, members observed, the Town Council never asked LFE to leave Chesterton. It never forced LFE to leave Chesterton. The Duneland Chamber of Commerce never asked LFE to leave Chesterton. It never forced LFE to leave Chesterton.

What did happen is this, Trout said. After the Chamber had spun the festival off to LFE, after the 2004 edition, LFE approached the Town Council and proposed blocking and closing the public rights-of-way in the Downtown in order to charge an admission. The Town Council “said no, you can’t close the Downtown and charge admission,” Trout recalled.

“We weren’t going to allow them to block off streets Chesterton residents paid for,” Ton said.

“It was also a safety issue,” said Member Sharon Darnell, D-4th. “There would have been no way to get emergency vehicles in.”

So, miffed by the Town Council, LFE picked up its marbles and moved to the Expo Center, with the result that four years later it called the whole thing quits.

“You really need to stop bashing the Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce for something that’s not true,” Trout said. “We weren’t responsible for its leaving town,” Darnell said. “We are responsible for bringing it back.”

Posted 3/10/2009