Two weeks after approving an event permit for Joshua Hofer to host the first-ever South Dakota Chislic Festival on Freeman's Main Street, the Freeman City Council OK'd a second permit for the July 28 festival — this time at the Swimming Pool Park/softball field grounds.
The action came 4-1 after a lengthy — and at time, testy — discussion at the council's regular meeting Monday night, June 4. John Munkvold cast the lone dissenting vote. Councilor Lonnie Tjaden was absent.
Approval of the second permit reflects a controversial location change for Hofer — who works as the marketing and development coordinator with the city of Freeman, and also with the Freeman Community Development Corporation (FCDC) — and the South Dakota Chislic Festival.
Hofer told the council Monday night that he and his planning committee decided to move the event from the downtown area after a surge of interest followed the initial announcement late last month.
"Our efforts with marketing and promotion went really well," he said, noting that radio coverage and a story by KSFY that yielded 6,000 shares on Facebook in 24 hours was far better than they had expected, and that organizers are planning for a turnout of between 1,000 and 2,000 people. "I've never been a part of anything like this, especially (for a town our size).
Anticipation of that kind of turnout led to "some very real logistical questions" about holding the festival on Main Street, Hofer told the council.
"It was a very difficult decision because we knew there would be some hard feelings," he said. "We agonized over this as an organizing body, but I think this will ultimately pay off."
Reasons for the move
Given the expected high turnout, Hofer cited several reasons the park option is better.
1. It would give plenty of time for setup. The Main Street event permit calls for closure of the street at 3 p.m. — one hour before the festival is set to begin — but given the scope of the festival, that's not enough time, Hofer said.
"We're going to need advanced setup (like) fences, and vendors are going to be needing to get set up. And in one hour? That's crazy," he said.
Hofer said he could have requested that Main Street be closed at 12 p.m. the day of the festival to give enough time for setup, but he knew there were already some business owners balking at the closure of Main Street to traffic, and that the council had had some concerns with the 3 p.m. Main Street closure when his initial event permit was considered two weeks ago.
"So an alternative location emerged," he said, noting that the baseball association and summer recreation league have both signed off on use of the space. "This gives us the ability to set up whenever we want to. We can come out days before."
2. The city park lends itself to a more family-friendly environment and a shaded area right next to the Freeman Swimming Pool. While the festival is being promoted for chislic and craft beers, "we've got to be ready for kids and families."
3. Hofer said that, considering how hot summers can get, a park environment is preferable to a street environment. People would be sitting on grass and in the shade of a tree as opposed to on hot cement.
"If we were on concrete on a really hot day," he said somebody suggested, "we might want an ambulance."
4. The softball field contains built-in fencing for a contained area for alcohol to be served. If the festival was held downtown, fencing would have to be brought in.
5. Moving from Main Street to the park area "preserves some relationships on Main Street," although the committee acknowledged that there are others who aren't happy with the change.
6. Parking. With as many as 2,000 people coming to the festival, having them all congregate on Main Street would "be a nightmare." Even with a trolly/transit system in place to transport people from elsewhere in town, "that issue alone" is enough to warrant the move.
Parking would be far better on the park grounds, Hofer said, especially with the possible use of the Waltner Addition development located just east of the softball/baseball park grounds.
"We've got a nice grassy area back there that could accommodate thousands," Hofer said.
Hofer acknowledged to the council that he knew there were some at the meeting who were going to speak out against the move.
"At the end of the day the organizing group had to make a strategic decision," he said. "All those advantages I listed are real ... with 300 or 500 people, Main Street was reasonable. But I do think we have the potential for something bigger. I believe Main Street events are a good thing; I'm all about building community and community core places. But we're trying to create a big event for Freeman, and logistics just point to a bigger venue.
Hofer was right; there were people at Monday's meeting who spoke out against the park option and in favor of Main Street. Dawn Walz of The Vintage Vault and Rick and Brenda Blue of Blue's Family Restaurant — both located downtown — were critical of the move.
Both said the fact that this was pitched to them as a Main Street event, and then moved without their input, was upsetting.
"(Hofer) even suggested putting up a bouncy house." said Rick Blue, who said he found out about the location change through a post on Facebook, not from Hofer himself. "At least come talk to me and tell me, so I don't find out that way."
Walz said that she had already made plans for the South Dakota Chislic Festival, including a wine-tasting at the lot immediately north of hers, and that she and others should be able to benefit from the "several thousand people on Main Street."
"It sure feels like the plans I have made are being systematically chopped away," she said.
Brenda Blue questioned how the park option would benefit Freeman.
"I thought this was a community-based thing," said Blue, who suggested that some of the vendors at the festival will be from outside the community and will therefore take their revenues into their own towns and cities — not Freeman. "How is it a community-based thing? They're not going to come into town.
"How is it going to benefit Freeman to have something out there — literally turning your back on the businesses in town," she said. "They're not going to come into town to spend their revenues."
Walz asked Hofer to show her "the marketing strategy that will benefit Freeman" and cited the Yankton Ribfest that had been held downtown before moving to Memorial Park. After that, she said, "it only lasted a couple more years."
The Blues said the park location offers nothing unique and suggested it would be no different than a Fourth of July celebration.
"There's no 'Freemanness' about it," said Brenda. "It's going to be in a park with tents. There's nothing indicating this is a community event."
Walz noted the value of a strong downtown and the work she has put into making her place of business something worth coming to.
"My enthusiasm is my belief that the community's Main Street is a beating heart for a community," she said. "Look around and see all these small towns that are hosting events. They're hosting them on Main Street because that is the heart of a small town."
"There are serious implications if it is moved to the ballpark for my businesses and other businesses," she continued. "This building is very dear to my heart and was painstaking renovated by my family for this community and others to enjoy."
"Should I, as a business owner on Main Street, take this city council's decision regarding the location of the festival as the future of our Main Street?"
While councilmembers and Hofer initially talked about the logistics of holding the festival on park grounds — street closures, parking and vendor setup — Monday's discussion was mostly about one location versus the other.
John Munkvold spoke in favor of the Main Street option and Becker, too, said he was leaning toward downtown.
Charly Waltner wondered about how some business owners would feel about closing off Main Street for a longer period of time to accommodate the setup required; "It was actually a hard sell to close down Main Street (during the discussion two weeks ago)," Waltner said.
But Hofer said the question before the council on Monday night was not where to hold the festival, but whether to issue the event permit.
"I'm not asking you to make a decision for location; I'm not asking whether we should move this event" he said. "It's great that we can have this sideline discussion, (but) I'm not asking for permission, here.
"We've come to this decision," Hofer said of his committee's preference for the park over downtown. "I'm asking for a permit for this event. With all due respect, I'm asking you to approve this vision."
Hofer said he would withdraw his first initial application and void that first event permit if that would help the process, but council Charles Gering warned against that.
"You could walk out of here with nothing," he said.
Several councilors appeared irked that they were forced into making this decision, and that it was, in fact, about location.
"You're coming to us with a proposal for the ballfields." councilor Terry Jacbosen said. "You have people who have already moved forward with (the Main Street) plans. You're taking those ideas and the money they've put into it and saying, 'So what?'
"I don't think anybody here is in complete agreement on either space right now." Jacobsen said.
"I don't like being in the middle of it." said Waltner.
Said Gering: "We find ourselves in a position to make the decision for you."
In the end, the council decided in favor of Hofer's request for the event permit at the park. Becker said that, even though he supported Main Street over the park option, he would support Hofer and his committee's choice.
"You have a committee that has recommended moving it to this site," Becker said. "I always trust that they made their decision and they know what they're talking about. If you have a committee that says, 'This is where it's best,' then I support this permit."
Hofer never did withdraw his first application, meaning the event permit for Main Street is still in play. In theory, that gives Hofer and others an option to work with both locations if they so choose.
"We're actually kicking it back to you that you've got two viable options that you can use." said Waltner.
"Let's bring 4,000 people in and fill everything up." said Becker.
"Why not include Main Street in some of it, at the very least, so they can see downtown Freeman?" said Brenda Blue. "Why can't we do this as a community?"
Hofer said his intentions were never to slight anybody but to do what he felt was best for the festival.
"We can grow this," he said. "My (bigger) vision would encompass a lot more, but the question is, 'How do we accomplish this this year?' I'm just trying to do the best job I can."
The South Dakota Chislic Festival is being organized by Hofer with support from the FCDC and Heritage Hall Museum and Archives. The plan is to put out a call for vendors from the local and regional businesses, include craft beers and entertainment.
Learn more at sdchislicfestival.com.