River Festival

Official: Riverfest attendance tops last year’s mark (VIDEO)

VIDEO: Fireworks bring Riverfest to a close

Wichita River Festival 2015 came to an end Saturday with fireworks. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)
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Wichita River Festival 2015 came to an end Saturday with fireworks. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

Riverfest officials said Saturday evening that 2015 festival attendance “definitely surpassed” last year’s total of 380,000 festivalgoers.

Wichita Festivals chief executive Mary Beth Jarvis said attendance may have surpassed 400,000.

“We may know more as we count buttons this evening,” she said. “It looks really good for having beaten 380,000, and I think 400,000 is a real possibility.”

The final day of the nine-day event started at 6:55 a.m. Saturday with the launch of hot air balloons near the Wichita Hyatt Regency, followed by the start of the River Run. There were also a couple of water-related events, including some that had been postponed from the previous Saturday because of strong river currents, including the Wet Your Pallet raft race and the Cardboard Regatta.

Kansas Honor Flight, a Hutchinson-based nonprofit group that pays for World War II, Korean and Vietnam veterans to travel to Washington, D.C., and visit war memorials, held its first Duck Deploy fundraiser, in which volunteers dumped 10,000 rubber ducks – sponsored by groups and individuals – from the Douglas Avenue Bridge. The ducks “raced” downstream to near the Lewis Street Bridge. Kenny White, a Kansas Honor Flight board member, said money raised from the Duck Deploy will be used to pay for the honor flights, which cost about $20,000 per flight to pay for travel and accommodations for 25 veterans.

Darlene Holmes and Penny Douglass said on Saturday that they traveled to Wichita from Garden City to attend Riverfest.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever been here,” Douglass said.

“So far, it’s pretty good,” Holmes said. “I like the variety, and it’s set up very well.”

Holmes and Douglass said they planned to stay overnight in Wichita so they could attend the DJ Jazzy Jeff and Mayer Hawthorne concert, followed by the CapFed Fantastic Fireworks Finale.

Garrett and Tara Foltz of Douglass brought their three children, ages 2 months to 7 years, to Riverfest on Saturday afternoon, beginning with a stop at the food court near Century II.

“Our motivation is food,” Tara Foltz said. “The main reason I come up here is for the funnel cakes and Dippin’ Dots.”

The Foltzes and others didn’t seem put off by the jump in price for this year’s Riverfest buttons, which rose from $5 last year to $10 this year.

The doubling in price of a button was announced in February. It is intended to defray the rising costs of events, including musical acts and security.

Jarvis said pre-sales of the buttons at its $5 price, online and at the Intrust Bank Arena box office and Wichita Festivals office from February through May 7, likely helped.

“Almost 30,000 were bought at the old $5 rate,” she said, adding that the “the pace of button sales has been good on site” at Riverfest.

She said attendance had crossed last year’s mark by about 10,000 on Thursday night, when the Goodwill Cajun Food Fest was held.

“We went over 300,000 (total) attendees; we passed that as of Thursday night,” Jarvis said. “Bread pudding took us over the 300,000 mark.”

Higher attendance was also helped this year by businesses sponsoring free admission to the festival from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays, which Jarvis thinks brought more downtown workers to Riverfest over their lunch hour.

Dwight Wedel, who, along with his wife, Dixie, owns D&J Pronto Pup, a festival food vendor since 1990, said the free admission was good for his business.

“The sponsored lunch thing was an excellent idea,” Wedel said.

Wedel said late Saturday afternoon that he thinks this year’s festival will be an “average” year for Pronto Pup’s business.

“It kind of started with a slow start – the first Saturday was very slow – but the last several days have been good days,” he said.

He said festivalgoers are a lot “milder” than in years past, and he thinks Riverfest this year is more family friendly.

“It’s a good place to bring your kids,” he said.

Wichita police Capt. Jose Salcido said on Saturday afternoon that his officers had made a total of six arrests at Riverfest since the May 29 kick-off. He said five of those arrests were for minor offenses, and the sixth one was for a domestic battery that happened off of Riverfest grounds but was witnessed by two officers working the event.

He said that in past years, officers have made 40 or more arrests during Riverfest.

“It’s a phenomenal event (this year) from a security perspective,” said Salcido, who is commander of the police department’s South Bureau, which includes the area where Riverfest events are held.

Jarvis said the low crime rate at Riverfest is the result of two factors: a more consistent enforcement of button-wearing and more proactive policing style from officers.

“For a number of years, we had too many meanderers and folks just kind of skulking about inside of our festival grounds,” Jarvis said. “We want you to buy in and be a part of our activities.”

The festival’s Flogging Molly concert Friday night drew one of the largest crowds to a single Riverfest event, and Jarvis said she was surprised at the different age ranges that came to the concert.

“On social media, it became clear that here we were saving them a trip to Kansas City or Denver to see them,” Jarvis said.

Jarvis said she and her crews at Wichita Festivals will “start tomorrow” in “planning, improving, evolving and planning our festival for next year.”

Reach Jerry Siebenmark at 316-268-6576 or jsiebenmark@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jsiebenmark.

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