Neighbors tired of noise and traffic, as well as residents who want Memorial Field used only for sports events, have the Festival at Sandpoint hunting for a new home.
“Because of the input from neighbors, we have reopened our search for new sites,” said festival Executive Director Connie Berghan. “We would dearly love to stay here (in Sandpoint). That’s our goal, but we are not ruling anything out.”
The possibilities include moving the 14-year-old festival to another city. Berghan said that since the hubbub over Memorial Field began, several other cities have contacted her to see if the festival can be wooed away.
Berghan would not say which cities are interested, but Post Falls officials have toyed with starting a similar music festival. And Coeur d’Alene almost landed the North Idaho Draft Horse Show a few years ago after event organizers had problems at the Bonner County Fairgrounds.
“I haven’t heard of any discussions about having the festival in Coeur d’Alene. That’s not to say it couldn’t be happening. I just haven’t heard it,” said Bob Brown, chairman of the Kootenai County Arts Council.
“I’m amazed Sandpoint is having some difficulty and think they would recognize they have a treasure in the festival,” Brown said.
The thought of offers from other cities has alarmed the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce. Executive Director Jonathan Coe said a committee will be formed this week to help keep the festival here.
“On the one hand, I find it hard to believe the Festival at Sandpoint could become the Festival at Post Falls,” said Coe. “But we understand their need and desire for a permanent location. As they get frustrated in trying to find a place here, they have to look at all their options.”
The festival has a huge economic impact here and is a tourism attraction. To lose it would be a financial blow, Coe said.
Yet, he’s pessimistic the festival will be able to remain at Memorial Field, the traditional venue for the three weeks of concerts.
The festival has only a one-year lease to use the site. A group of Memorial Field neighbors who have endured crowds of 5,000, cars parked in their driveways and loud late-night concerts say the festival has outgrown the field.
Those residents have hired Coeur d’Alene attorney Scott Reed to represent them. Reed has already told the city the festival violates the city’s residential zoning code.
Reed said Monday that residents have not asked him to take any further legal action yet.
“We are not trying to cause anyone embarrassment or force the festival out of town,” Reed said. “These neighbors just want them to find a more appropriate location.”
Other sites the festival has discussed in the past include Schweitzer Mountain Resort, an old mill site in Dover, about two miles west of Sandpoint, and a budding sports complex in Ponderay, about three miles east.
“We will go back to all the locations that wanted us and take a look at them. We aren’t ruling anything out,” Berghan said.
Festival organizers said they are open to a lot of different possibilities but want a site that has the natural beauty and ambience of the waterfront Memorial Field.
“The point we are trying to get across is this is a community decision, and we are not going to fight for any location,” Berghan said. “If people want us here we need to hear that, and if they don’t want us here we need to hear that too.”
Neighbors became vocal after the festival unveiled a proposal to build a 10,000-square-foot stage over the Pend Oreille River at Memorial Field.
They feared the plan would block views, draw more people and more concerts and spill over into Lakeview Park. Another group of residents wants the festival moved so it does not interfere with athletics, mainly baseball games and tournaments at the field.
Berghan said the festival’s own recent survey of the neighborhood still showed a majority of people support the festival, but she worries about the vocal minority.
“They are organized and a very small group, but one that could make a decision for an entire community. I hope it’s the decision the entire community wants,” she said.
xxxx Cityline Question for our readers: Should the Festival at Sandpoint stay at Memorial Field in Sandpoint? Or should it move? If so, where? To give your answer, please call Cityline at 458-8800 in Spokane or 765-8811 in Coeur d’Alene. Then punch code 9884. You must use a Touch-Tone telephone. Please include your name and hometown. Also give a daytime phone number if you are willing to talk with a reporter for a follow-up story. Cityline is a free service, but normal longdistance charges do apply.