When the Wichita River Festival moved all its pieces around last year — rearranging both the layout and the calendar — not everything fit quite right, it turned out.
So when the 41st annual festival opens Friday for its nine-day run, attendees will find that several main events have new locations (the food court, the River Run) and new dates (the ice cream social). Some events are gone (Cajun Food Fest, Plunge) and new ones are being introduced (a river-worthy Windwagon). And a couple of old favorites are coming back (the Block Party, the festival guide in booklet form).
Following is a look at the changes, additions and subtractions festival officials have planned for this year’s event, which runs Friday through June 9 in downtown Wichita.
But that spot didn’t work, said Janet Wright, the festival’s president and CEO.
“The west side of Century II was a difficult location,” she said. “It was crowded, and there was too much traffic. It was not as safe as we felt it should be, and it was hidden, too. But we didn’t want to put it back where it was because there’s not much activity over there.”
So this year, festival organizers persuaded the City Council to grant permission to put the food court smack in the middle of Douglas Avenue, just in front of Century II. The section of Douglas from Waco to Water will be closed to traffic starting Wednesday until the evening of June 10. Both Waco and Water will be accessible to traffic, though.
Also new at the food court: The festival offered vendors the choice of setting up either in the traditional white tents or in their own mobile food vending units, which are more sophisticated than a typical food truck, Wright said. About half the vendors chose to use tents, she said.
“It will be like a runners’ village with different vendors and folks offering products and services to runners,” Wright said.
Also returning: the Block Party, which was on hiatus last year. But research conducted by a Wichita State University class last summer showed that people want the Block Party back, Wright said. This year’s will take place from 4 to 10 p.m. on the festival’s final day — Saturday, June 9. It’ll be staged on Douglas, on Kennedy Plaza and in A. Price Woodard Park and will include a free concert by Tony! Toni! Tone!, the pop group whose show was canceled last year because of severe weather, a classic car “cruise-in,” the fourth annual funnel-cake-eating contest, street performers, and a finale fireworks show only slightly shorter than the opening night display.
Also new this year: A white tiger exhibit set up on the west side of Century II that will allow spectators to feed the rare animals.
The festival also will be without the Cajun Food Fest, a part of the festival for the past 26 years. Goodwill Industries, which put on the fundraising event, was offered the chance to move it to the WaterWalk Pavilion area when the festival decided the traditional spot on Kennedy Plaza was too close to the main food court. But they didn’t think it’d work there, said Gayle Goetz of Goodwill Industries.
The group is planning to stage the event later this year separate from the festival. But there are no hard feelings, Goetz said. “We wish the River Festival well,” she said.
Another popular event is changing dates The Hiland Dairy Ice Cream Social, which last year was included in opening-night events, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on Douglas near Waco.
The Wichita Eagle Medallion Hunt is back and once again will feature a physical medallion hidden somewhere on public property in Sedgwick County. The first clue will appear in The Eagle and on Kansas.com on Thursday.
The Cessna Kids Corner will be moved back to A. Price Woodard Park from its spot last year near Exploration Place. It will again include inflatables and carnival rides in the parking lot west of Century II.
The popular zipline, which took daredevils flying across the Arkansas River, will return this year, but because of the huge demand, two lines will run simultaneously.
And the WaterWalk Pavilion, introduced last year as a way to get young professionals to the festival for after-work fun, will return with nightly live music and food catered by local restaurants.