The rollercoaster-like fate of St. Paul Park’s Heritage Days took an unexpected turn recently when a second, competing proposal to run the festival emerged.
The St. Paul Park-Newport Lions Club submitted a plan to operate the multi-day festival beginning this summer. The club would retain most of the traditional events but try to clamp down on the excessive street drinking that has bruised the event’s reputation in recent years.
Lions Club leaders Greg Langbehn and John Wright pitched their proposal to the City Council last month, after an application deadline had passed.
“We would take it over entirely,” Langbehn said, citing the club’s 70-some members from which they could pull event volunteers. “I have lots of resources to fall back on.”
The Lions plan was late because of a miscommunication over who was going to submit the document, said Langbehn. He ran the program three years ago.
The late proposal bothered Jim Domeier, who ran Heritage Days and the royalty program until retiring after the 2013 festival. Even after saying he was done, Domeier applied to organize it again in 2014 because he said he didn’t see anybody stepping forward to continue the tradition.
Domeier said the Lions Club proposal was late, the group doesn’t fully grasp the cost involved and it couldn’t put on a festival as good as previous years’ celebrations.
“I feel it’s a slap in the face for what they want to do,” Domeier said.
The Lions Club proposal requests a three-year contract and a $5,000 donation from the city, similar to past city donations to the program. The pitch includes moving the popular street dance to the corner of Broadway Avenue and Third Street, fencing in the area and selling wristbands to people 21 or older who buy alcohol.
Langbehn said the group wants to “curb the alcoholic drinking in excess.”
Wristbands bought by drinkers would help pay for security for the event and help the downtown bars know who should and shouldn’t be drinking, he said.
Mayor Keith Franke said he’s not supportive of the wristband plan. Franke, who owns the namesake bar on Broadway Avenue, said wristbands are not enforceable in city ordinance. Bars need to do ID checks rather than assume someone wearing a wristband is old enough to drink because they are responsible for their own premises.
Franke did not oppose the Lions Club plan altogether, however. He said he wants Heritage Days to be a family draw, not just a big party. A carnival is needed to bring families to the event, he said. Neither Domeier nor the Lions Club has identified a carnival vendor for 2014.
“It’s such a great city function,” Franke said of the annual mid-August celebration. “I don’t want to see it go by the wayside.”
While the festival may go on, the Heritage Days royalty program likely will not continue. Domeier, who has run it in years past, said the “pageant is done.” The Lions Club proposal doesn’t include running the royalty program either.
City Council member Jeff Swenson said the council will decide on an organizer for this year’s Heritage Days at its Jan. 6 meeting.