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Fun Fest fading?

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Fun Fest is on the move.

The New Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce and its executive director Russ Korpela are working on plans to revitalize what they feel is a dying community celebration.

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At Monday's New Richmond City Council meeting, Korpela outlined some of the proposed changes to the annual mid-July gathering.

Korpela reported that Fun Fest is in a "significant life cycle downswing" after 50 years of existence.

The celebration, which has been held downtown for many years, lacks cohesiveness, he said. The carnival rides are set up in one area, while food booths and entertainment are down a different alley, he noted.

Fun Fest also suffers from frequent dead spots in its line-up, forcing families with kids to either spend a lot of money on rides or go home, Korpela said.

He called the community festival too labor intensive, and noted that the Chamber does not make enough money for the effort required to put it on.

"The return on investment is much too small," he told the council. "Unless it changes, it's not going to exist much longer."

In an effort to revamp Fun Fest, the chamber is planning to move the event to Cyclone Park, the grassy boulevard between Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College and St. Croix Press buildings and Hwy. 65.

Korpela said people's initial reaction to the idea is the property is much too small to host all the Fun Fest activities, but he disagrees.

In fact, the site will allow for an impressive expansion of the weekend's festivities. Plans call for a "Family Fun Zone," which will include kid-friendly activities that don't cost an arm and a leg.

"We need to have free or inexpensive kids events going on," he said.

On the southern edge of the festival grounds, an arts and crafts show will be set up to attract tourists and locals alike.

Along with the traditional carnival rides, Korpela said the chamber hopes to expand its entertainment line-up to attract more people and keep them at the festival longer.

The new site will allow fewer volunteers to better manage the festival, and will be less of a challenge for law enforcement to police, Korpela said. Moving to the park will also quiet criticism of homeowners near the previous downtown carnival site about noise, Korpela added.

Parking should be less of a problem, as WITC and St. Croix Press will allow the use of portions of their parking lots on most days of the festival.

"It's an excellent site," he said. "It lays out very nicely. The more I'm out there, the more I fall in love with it."

The biggest concern with the new site is its proximity to Hwy. 65. Korpela said organizers will work hard to install fences to ensure kids won't be able to wander into traffic.

Beer sales are also a concern, because alcohol cannot be served on WITC property, Korpela said. The beer tent will have to be located to the southeast of the St. Croix Press building as a result, but the restriction is manageable.

Previous attempts to upgrade and change Fun Fest failed, Korpela said, because people perhaps lacked the political will to do it.

As a new chamber director, Korpela said he's willing to stick his neck out in an effort to improve things.

"We think the time for change is here," he said. "I have fairly big shoulders and am willing to take the brunt of the criticism."

At least two council members voiced their support for the idea.

"I think it's a good plan," Council member Jim Zajkowski said. "Fun Fest has probably been getting stale the last couple of years."

Council member Jim Johnston agreed. "It sounds good to me," he said.

But Council member Ron Volkert offered the lone negative response.

"It should stay downtown," he said.

He said he likes that there is so much activity in the downtown area during Fun Fest, and it helps to draw attention to the community's main business district.

"But it's not likely to survive downtown," Korpela warned.

While moving the festival out of the downtown will hurt some businesses, Korpela agreed, many other business owners are happy to see it move. And the long-term benefits of improving Fun Fest will far outweigh the short-term impact, he added.

Zajkowski said the new festival site will continue to be highly visible. "It's right on our main drag," he said.

The festival grounds are not likely to be the only Fun Fest change. Korpela said the chamber would like to change the traditional Sunday parade to Saturday at 5 p.m.

He said organizers hope to keep the large crowd in town following the parade by offering a first-class band and other activities.

The way it's set up now, parade goers simply pack up and leave town following the Sunday parade, Korpela said. The chamber does not realize any revenue from such a set-up.

"The parade is essentially an expense item for the event," he said.

Korpela said he will bring the final plans for the 2006 Fun Fest to the council's June meeting.

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