“We want the community to give us their input,” said incoming Chamber President Ken Seamann. “We want them to understand the challenges.”
Now in its 20th year, the CornFest has been attracting between 20,000 and 40,000 visitors annually to the mid-July celebration of food, family and fun. For the first 17 years, the event was held in downtown’s City Park and surrounding streets. Construction of the city’s new Civic Center forced the event to relocate, first to other downtown streets in 2010, then to a pair of dirt fields in north Brentwood for 2011 and 2012.
The 2010 event was the first in which the dozens of nonprofit organizations that provide the volunteers to run the CornFest received no money for their efforts. The complex layout made a big impact on many downtown businesses and residents, and cost far more in fencing, security and other expenses. Coupled with the nation’s ongoing economic tailspin, the result left nonprofits – including the Chamber, which depends on CornFest revenue to maintain its services for more than 300 member businesses – with no payout.
Revenue rebounded in 2011 when the event moved to a large dirt field on Brentwood Boulevard, and about $50,000 was divided among the nonprofit groups that put it on. The unimproved lot created lots of dust, however, leading to numerous complaints from attendees as well as vendors.
When the 2011 site was not available this year, the festival shifted to the other side of Brentwood Boulevard and included Technology Way. That cut the dust for vendors, but most of the event was on dirt again, and parking was located farther away. Attendance was down, and revenues for the charities fell by half from 2011.
Last week, the Chamber held a preliminary meeting to discuss the 2013 event’s possible location. Business owners, Chamber members and residents looked at a short list of alternatives that include last year’s Technology Way location; returning the event to City Park downtown; Brentwood Boulevard at the S-curve near Safeway; and Brentwood Boulevard between Balfour Road and the Brentwood police station at Guthrie Lane.
The last two options are new, and were made possible by the transfer of Brentwood Boulevard to local control after the official designation of Highway 4 was shifted to the former Bypass earlier this year. Construction has been finished in City Park, but some Chamber members – as well as city officials they have spoken with – are reluctant to subject City Park to the large crowds the CornFest attracts, and possibly damage the new park.
The talks at last week’s meeting revealed the issues the Chamber is grappling with. For instance, damage to City Park could be as high as $100,000 just for replacing grass, which took a major pounding in previous years. However, treating the soil to control dust at other sites could cost up to $80,000 or more. Other problems exist for each of the sites regarding accessibility, security and the impact on residents and businesses.
While the Chamber would like to find one site to hold the event every year, it’s not likely to be found in time for the 2013 event. Likewise, downsizing the CornFest would require plenty of discussion and planning to determine who and what the new look would involve, and according to Seamann, there’s not enough time before next year’s event.
“People have to understand that this is not a hastily-put-together thing,” he said.
There is enough time, however, to let those who enjoy it speak out as decisions are made for this year’s event. The meeting will be held Monday, Jan. 7 at 5:30 p.m. in the Chamber office, 8440 Brentwood Blvd., Suite C.
Seamann asked that those planning to attend call the Chamber office at 925-634-3344 and leave a message. If necessary, the meeting will be moved to accommodate more participants.