Controversy over the use of Memorial Field finally has taken its toll on the Festival at Sandpoint.
Organizers said Wednesday they will yank up festival tent stakes and move half of their 15 concerts to Kootenai County next year.
“To present our main-stage concerts in two locations is a positive way to address concerns expressed by some Sandpoint residents,” festival President Sally Lindemann said.
The decision shocked Sandpoint city officials and businessmen, while those in Kootenai County licked their chops over getting a slice of the festival’s economic pie.
“We hate to see problems with the festival in Sandpoint, but it’s grown to a point where maybe it needs to expand. Maybe it can become the North Idaho Festival,” said John Kozma, president of the Greater Coeur d’Alene Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Naturally, it would be a boost to our economy and we would love to have it.”
Sandpoint Mayor Ron Chaney, whose daughter Connie Berghan is executive director of the festival, said the decision is a tremendous economic and cultural blow.
“I’m biased,” Chaney said. “But it appears to me the festival is tired of fighting the perception they are not wanted here. I’m hoping festival supporters will now rally and see them through this crisis.”
The City Council voted this year to oust the festival from its traditional Memorial Field venue after the 1997 season. It bowed to complaints from some neighbors who don’t like the noise, traffic, drinking and crowds. The group even threatened to sue the city for allowing concerts in a residential neighborhood.
“In my opinion, there was a limited number of people opposing the festival. However, they are very vocal. Apparently, with this announcement, they are very effective,” Chaney said.
Festival organizers insist the move isn’t to test the waters and later take the entire show on the road to Kootenai County.
“We are committed to Sandpoint and that won’t happen,” Berghan said. “We truly believe this is the way we can stay in Sandpoint. We are responding to community concerns while at the same time ensuring the festival’s future,” she said.
The festival plans to hold half of its concerts at Memorial Field. The trademark tent then would be moved to Kootenai County for a second set of shows.
Moving will provide a larger audience base, cut down on competition with other concert promoters and make scheduling acts easier.
The festival now competes for use of Memorial Field with local sports programs. That gives organizers a limited time frame to book performers.
The festival hasn’t selected a site in Kootenai County but is working with officials there to find one. It could end up in Post Falls, Hayden Lake, Coeur d’Alene or even Bayview, Berghan said.
“There will be some logistical problems to work out, but I can’t imagine anyone here not being excited about this,” said Bob Brown, President of the Kootenai County Arts Council. “This is the best thing that can happen for our business community.”
Some already have suggested using the Kootenai County Fairgrounds, Greyhound Park or even the State Line Speedway.
But Berghan said they have strict criteria for sites. They want a similar setting to Memorial Field which has a view of the mountains and Pend Oreille River.
“The ambiance and beauty of the site is very important,” she said.
Although the festival is trying to put a positive spin on its move, few are buying it.
Restaurant owner John Klager said it will siphon money from all downtown businesses.
“I don’t blame them for seeking a larger audience. It’s a wise business move on their part, but we will hurt because of it.”
“The festival has been one of our prime assets. Even losing half ought to concern the entire community,” added Jonathan Coe, executive director of Sandpoint’s Chamber of Commerce.
“We think Sandpoint is the best place for the festival and we are going to try hard to convince them of that.”