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Domeier steps forward to run St. Paul Park Heritage Days

Changes are expected for St. Paul Park’s annual Heritage Days festival as the city begins talks with longtime event organizer Jim Domeier, despite announcing his retirement earlier this year. Last year, thousands packed Broadway Avenue to take part in the event’s festivities. (Bulletin file photo)

An eleventh-hour decision by longtime Heritage Days organizer Jim Domeier, who had announced his retirement, may have saved the annual event for another year.

Domeier stepped forward last week as the sole applicant interested in taking over, or in his case continuing, the planning of the festival in 2014.

Domeier relinquished his title earlier this year, leaving the event’s future uncertain. But before shopping Heritage Days around to other organizations, city officials offered it up to St. Paul Park citizens in hopes of securing a local leader.

While the American Legion Post 98 expressed interest, Mayor Keith Franke said it couldn’t assemble enough volunteers. With the deadline closing on Monday, Dec. 2, Domeier formally submitted a letter of interest.

“I’d hate to see it go away,” he said in an interview. “I have already stuck 12 years into this myself.”

Before becoming the event organizer in 2011, Domeier led the festival’s royalty program under his nonprofit, Heritage Days Festival, Inc.

Without an organizer, the City Council conducted a survey of citizens in an attempt to garner new ideas and gauge if residents even wanted the festival to continue. Despite a low turnout — only 50 residents responded — the results favored keeping Heritage Days.

“I mean, I don’t put a lot of trust in that survey, but it’s a good thing that those who responded wanted to keep it,” Domeier said.

While the majority of respondents said the event should stay, they also wanted to see a shift toward a more family friendly get-together. The number of police calls made during the 2013 weekend were up significantly from previous years, a sign both the residents and the City Council said that something needs to change.

“Historically, Heritage Days is designed to give a bump to our local businesses,” Mayor Keith Franke said during a workshop session earlier this fall. “But I don’t want to see it turn into something that isn’t conducive with our city. I don’t want it to just turn into one big party.

Other changes the council discussed included the possibility of moving the August event off Broadway Avenue, cutting it down to one day, stepping up police and even limiting or restricting alcohol. But Domeier said if alcohol disappears, so will the people.

“I’m going to talk with (the city) to see what they have in mind for new ideas, and if it works it works and if it doesn’t then it doesn’t,” he said.

Franke said he was happy Domeier come forward, adding this year could be one of big changes.

“I know he doesn’t want to let anyone down,” Franke said in an interview. “I’m not sure if he has any new ideas to bring to the table or not, but we want to make sure we create an event that is something to look forward to.”

The Heritage Days royalty program also is up for discussion, Domeier said. The decision has already been made to suspend the program for 2014, but it has an even more uncertain future than the festival itself.

The decision to temporarily shut down the royalty program came after one member of the program reported bullying and disagreements with program coordinators over scheduling conflicts. The ordeal was taken to civil court over the funds of an unused plane ticket.

Domeier said the dispute was unrelated to the decision to suspend the program.

However, with costs upward of $25,000 a year and a dwindling number of girls interested in the program, Domeier agreed that the program needs to be re-evaluated.

“I can’t say if it will or it won’t come back right now,” Domeier said. “It’s suspended for this year and I just don’t know what will happen.”

Domeier and city officials plan to meet in the next couple of weeks to talk about new ideas for the festival.

“I’m hoping to have the event go on (in 2014),” Domeier added. “I’m open minded.”