Rivertown Art Fair date change sparks dispute

The Rivertown Art Fair hosted by the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce will be held on a new date this year.
Although the fair is normally the third week in May, the chamber requested that the date be moved to the first weekend in June. The suggestion riled up members of the Downtown Independent Business Association, due to the concern that it could impact members’ business. A couple of people spoke against the change.
“By moving it two weeks (it) moves the event into high season, which results in more competition for (parking) spaces,” Community Development Director Bill Turnblad said.
Some business owners, including Jerry Helmberger and Aimee Pelletier, spoke against the change, claiming that the Chamber hadn’t gotten in touch with them before it requested the date change.
“To me anyway this is a concern because it may not affect lodging, having a vibrant downtown is critical,” Helmberger said. “But for the past 40 years the event was a shoulder event. We don’t need anymore events in high season. There are protocols in place that we need to follow.”
Those who appeared in support of the IBA called for the denial of the permit for the chamber.
A letter from the chamber of commerce indicates that the date change occurred due to the fact that the annual fundraiser has dealt with inclement weather, and the chamber wanted to try and move the event into June to avoid that problem.
“While we understand the IBA’s concerns, the event is operated by the chamber, and the Chamber’s goal first and foremost is to make the event a success,” reads the letter written by Kevin Sandstrom of the chamber’s board of directors. “The Chamber has made past accommodations at the behest of the IBA, such as eliminating many categories of retail exhibitors and reducing the number of food vendors. The chamber also made efforts over the years to hold the event in North Lowell Park, to maintain the parking lots at the south end of downtown. At present the chamber has expended considerable effort and money toward marketing this event with the new date, including in the CVB’s Visitor’s Guide, along with other marketing strategies. Numerous exhibitors already submitted their applications and payments. Changing the date back to the historical date is not feasible at this point.”
It was noted that the deadline for events to get in the CVB’s visitor’s guide was in November. Currently DiscoverStillwater.com, the CVB’s website, lists the event for May 31 to June 1.
Councilmember Doug Menikheim said that he didn’t want the council to act as a mediator on this issue.
“I would like to see the parties involved have a conversation,” he said. “If you want to place blame, you can look to me. I heard that they were moving it up, but I didn’t ask him (Director Todd Streeter) if he’d checked with others, and I didn’t ask if they’d have a conversation. But for me, I don’t want to be a hall monitor. Everyone has had things fall through the cracks. Why not seek him out if you have concerns? Everybody should use this as experience and to know better going forward. This sounds like this could be  something for (the city’s new) event coordinator going forward.”
Councilmember Tom Weidner agreed, saying that refusing the permit at this point would be something he’d see as punitive.
The council unanimously agreed allow the new date.
• The tobacco moratorium that was discussed at the council meeting two weeks ago was approved with changes to the language that now states that any pending or approved licenses would be able to continue to function if they were approved. The change was made in response to concerns expressed about exclusivity in the previous version of the ordinance.
• A state of emergency was declared for this year’s flood season. This allows city staff to begin preventative measures if the river floods.

Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]

  • Randy Marsh

    Are Helmberger and Pelletier members of the chamber? Perhaps they need to realize the IBA does not get to call the shots on everything that occurs downtown. You will not find a bigger bunch of whiners anywhere in this fine community. Congrats to the chamber for giving back to the community and running the fine events that it does, which is a nice contrast to those wannabe welfare recipients from the IBA, who always take more than they give.

  • Zaphoidbeetlebox

    Am I reading this correctly? The Chamber of Commerce changed the date of the event, then advertised and published it before notifying the business community? That’s just wrong.