Eagle editorial: Another great time at River Festival

06/11/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

Thanks to Wichita Festivals and its president and CEO, Mary Beth Jarvis, for showing locals and visitors another great time during the 2014 Wichita River Festival while continuing the tradition’s welcome rebound in crowds, sponsorships and, presumably, financial health.

As Mayor Carl Brewer noted in opening Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the 2014 Riverfest stood out for the uncanny way it dodged the rains to enjoy mostly beautiful weather. “Can’t say it was dry, but the skies were clear, and the concerts and the activities went on, and everyone had a wonderful time,” Brewer said.

Preliminary numbers for the nine-day festival, which ended Saturday, estimated attendance at 380,000 – up 5 percent from 2013 and 30 percent from 2012, and verging on 2007’s record high of 385,000. The festival put the opening-night crowd at 75,000, with concerts by Jerrod Neimann (20,000), Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (20,000), Tamela Mann and other gospel performers (10,000 to 12,000), and Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg (more than 35,000) also proving to be strong draws.

Though information was pending Tuesday about total button sales at 125-plus retailers, more than 31,000 were sold at the festival site, similar to last year’s 30,000 and much improved from 2012’s 12,000. If the total surpasses last year’s 104,000, it will be further evidence that the community considers the diverse offerings at Wichita’s signature community event well worth the one-time $5 cost of admission ($3 for kids).

Would it be better if the festival didn’t have to cordon off three main areas and enforce the button requirement, and could maintain a more open and freewheeling atmosphere? Of course.

But the recent past demonstrated the necessity of getting and keeping the festival’s finances in order. That has meant boosting sponsorships, which were up more than 15 percent from last year, and doing more to ensure that festivalgoers pay their way. The fencing also has shored up the family friendliness while helping reduce arrests.

Questions for organizers to consider include whether the laser light show (with some pyrotechnics) proved a worthy substitute for a big festival-closing fireworks show, whether to make the Ferris wheel and aviation-themed day permanent additions, and, as always, how to keep things fresh and eclectic while satisfying those who’d prefer a Throwback Riverfest.

A lot of the moves made in recent years seem to be working, including switching the start date from middle to late May and treating the button as a nearly all-access pass.

Gratitude is due the businesses, organizations and volunteers whose participation helped make the 43rd Riverfest such a success, in the process boosting the community’s economy, downtown and quality of life.

Miss it? Save these dates: May 29 through June 6, 2015.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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