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Fun Fest parade issues debated

At least one group of New Richmond residents thinks the Fun Fest parade needs a change - they're just not sure the New Richmond Chamber of Commerce is willing to listen.

A group of residents and area business owners met with a few of the Chamber's officers on Thursday, Oct. 6. The meeting was closed to the press; however, interviews after the meeting revealed that the group is generally unhappy with the changes that have been made over the last few years (i.e. changing the parade to Saturday and moving the route further south).

Bill Driscoll, who attended the meeting as a concerned citizen, said he attended simply to listen to what was being said.

"Russ Korpela (Chamber director) thinks it's successful the way it is," Driscoll said of the parade.

Chuck Mehls said it's that kind of thinking that makes it apparent the Chamber's parade committee isn't listening to the community.

"Their thinking is that it (Fun Fest) is a fundraiser for the Chamber," he said. "It's not for the advantage of the community."

Korpela said it's true that Fun Fest is the Chamber's primary fundraiser for the year; however, all decisions regarding the event are made with the community in mind.

"We do welcome and discuss all the suggestions that are made, but in the end we need to consider the overall health of the event," he said. "The formula we've been using for Fun Fest has been very successful, but that doesn't mean we're not open to ideas."

Mehls said he attended Thursday's meeting to help rectify some of the problems with the Fun Fest parade and to give suggestions.

For example, Mehls said he'd like to see a review stand erected so that the units in the parade get proper recognition and acknowledgement.

"There used to be a review stand, but where has it been since 2006?" he asked.

Typically, a review stand is populated with local celebrities and various city officials, he said. A sign is erected 100 feet before the stand to give band directors and other parade units warning.

"That way they can announce the units before they get to the stand and pass in review," he said. "It's advertised that we have one, but it doesn't exist anymore."

The group also suggested that the parade be moved to Sunday.

"A Sunday parade would draw more people downtown and draw more people from out of town into downtown. It would keep the businesses open longer on Sunday," he said.

Mehls said he is disappointed that some of the veteran support groups, like the American Legion, weren't invited to participate in the discussions regarding the Fun Fest parade.

"We had Sunday events," Mehls said. "Right now we're left high and dry."

Mehls said he agrees that the carnival needs to be on the southern end of town because of its size.

"There's no doubt about the carnival," he said.

However, that doesn't mean those in the beer tent should determine where the parade route is.

"It doesn't benefit businesses to have the route the way it is," Mehls said. "There was some suggestion to start the parade at First Street and end it at GG, but the Chamber wants it to end at Paperjack so the people in the beer tent could see it."

Driscoll, who, along with others, is responsible for organizing the St. Patrick's Day parade, said the Fun Fest parade has gotten weaker since the changes have been made.

"I've always said that when the head of your dragon reaches its tail, that's when you know you've got a good parade," he said referring to the number of participants in a parade.

In years past, several local marching bands and other organizations marched in the parade. Last year only Osceola High School, New Richmond High School and New Richmond Middle School marched in the Fun Fest parade.

"In all fairness to the schools, it does cost money to send marching units to parades," Mehls said.

Driscoll is now convinced that while the Fun Fust parade used to be one of the best in the area, the Hammond Heartland Days parade now holds that title, he said.

"It was an hour and a half," he said. "That was the best one this year."

Mehls said he's disappointed that the parade committee isn't more open to suggestion.

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem," he said.

Korpela said the suggestions offered at the Oct. 6 meeting will be discussed during the Chamber's Oct. 20 long-range planning meeting.

"Some of the suggestions are worth discussing at some length and we'll do our best to see if we can't make some of them happen," he said.