Survey says: Residents in favor of festival

Council to determine what next steps are

7-23 LJD Parade wide shot
Gazette file photo

The recent survey gauging residents’ interest in a Stillwater summer festival learned that about two-thirds of those participating in the poll want some type of event. What respondents split over is the type and scope of an event.

More than 1,000 people took part in the Readex Research survey sent to residents in various Stillwater neighborhoods over the last few months. What Readex discovered is that 50 percent of respondents wanted a festival smaller than Lumberjack Days, while the other 50 percent wanted the same size or larger event.

“This is your dilemma right here,” said Michele Hanson of Readex. “Your next step is to determine which way you’d like to go.”

Hanson told the council that two-thirds of residents surveyed also appear to want one large event and several smaller events throughout a year; believe the current mix of local events is just about right, and that past events have had a positive impact on the community and businesses.

Hanson added that residents living in the city for 20-plus years with no children want smaller events, but also stated that a larger event was important and they would miss it if it was gone.

“The idea of what a summer festival should be is what they’ve seen in the past,” she said.

Survey responses indicate that residents want to see lumberjack exhibits, parades, fireworks and vendors. But people were two times as likely to want smaller local acts featured in a concert instead of big-name acts. Hanson added that residents were receptive to events from May to July, with July being the favored month.

Although most respondents said the events caused few inconveniences, their main concerns were parking and traffic. One suggestion to reduce address parking and traffic was having shuttles take people downtown where most respondents preferred an event to stay.

“When planning a replacement event you’ll want to be empathetic and mindful of the feedback and be careful in hiring people to manage the event,” Hanson said. “There were a lot of good possibilities that could occur from this survey and overall people show support for these events with about 94 percent of people attending at least one event in Stillwater.”

“It shows our residents like to have fun,” Mayor Ken Harycki said of that percentage.

The council now must decide what to do, and whether — as Ward 2 Councilman Ted Kozlowski said — the city wants to go into the event-planning business.

It’s unlikely an event occurs this summer due to time constraints and because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is slated to begin work on the St. Croix River levee project in mid-April and would work throughout the summer, potentially leaving the riverfont and downtown areas unavailable since they would be fenced off.

Although Harycki said a downtown business owner offered to underwrite an event, the council was concerned about getting an event planned right instead of rushing into something.

“I think we need to take this slowly,” Ward 1 Councilman Doug Menikheim said. “We need to do this thing right, create a committee, form a policy, rather than rush it. Work at it and do it right and set up this event for 2014.”

Ward 4 Councilman Mike Polehna called for more research on other cities who have very successful events to figure out how to make Stillwater’s a success going forward. The council has set up a March 21 workshop meeting to discuss replacement events further.