BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Fort Madison Tourism board granted Fort Madison’s resurgent summer festival Riverfest $10,000 to help the organization build on its momentum.
Fort Madison Mayor Brad Randolph told RiverFest co-founder Charles Craft that request was a big ask, but the first two-years of the event has shown organizers are bringing in thousands of people to the event and they are doing the right things to warrant the grant.
“It’s a big ask, no question about it,” Randolph told Craft. “I do think that people appreciate the ability to be able to come, even locally, to participate in an event, as people always say there’s nothing to do. And you stepping up and doing that is huge, and we appreciate that. But we have to weigh the ask and how it’s justified to how we award other grants.”
Craft updated the board on the progress and planning of the 2018 event including entertainment and issues with parking, accommodations and the group’s charitable efforts in conjunction with the event. This is Craft’s third year spearheading the event.
Board member Kim Engle voted, after about a 30-minute discussion, to give Riverfest the $10,000 they had requested to help aid in the marketing efforts of the event. Last year Craft requested $5,000 and was given $2,500.
Randolph, who sits on the board, hesitated slightly before voting in favor of the grant from city tourism funds. Board member Mark Lair, who also sits on the Fort Madison City Council meeting, voted against the expenditure.
Prior to voting, Randolph asked Craft how he would justify $10,000.
“Dollars for dollars we’re going to bring people into town,” Craft said. “Other than rodeo, there’s definitely not another event in Fort Madison that has the capability to bring thousands of people to town and fill up all the hotels. And hopefully have those people descend like a plague of locusts on our local businesses.”
The Riverfest committee has a full slate of rock bands from the 70s through contemporary rock, including 80s superband Firehouse, Saving Abel, Hinder, and chart-topping Pop Evil. Local favorites like The Brandon Gibbs Band, and Chaz and the Channelcats, regional favorites Stumptown and the NATU Band are also scheduled. Cover groups X-Crush, Decade of Decadence, Jive Radio, and Headfirst, round out the entertainment. Craft said there will be another group announced later in addition to the winner of the May 27th’s Battle of the Bands at Vinnie’s Longbranch, which will get to perform on the Main Stage prior to Saving Abel. Sunday features country rap artist Colt Ford.
The Battle of the Bands will also feature a charitable arm, where those in attendance can vote for their favorite charity out of the following: Puppy Jake Foundation of Urbandale, Fort Madison’s Ellliott Test Kitchen or PAW animal shelter. Puppy Jake prepares service dogs for wounded veterans.
“One of the reasons we increased our advertising is our lineup. We want to reach out as far as we can to let people know what we’re doing. It takes 3 to 5 years for people to get used to something they do in the summertime.”
Board member Wright said he has friends that travel to Des Moines or the Quad Cities to see a club band.
“For us to have this level of bands from the 80s and 90s you’re going to have a lot of people driving into the tri-state area to come to a show like this,” Wright said.
Craft said with the festival growing each year, he’s estimated total expenditures to be around $120,000 this year, compared to roughly $50,000 in 2017.
He said to date he’s only done about $500 in marketing and that was predominantly on Facebook boosting posts to identified areas that support the type of music the festival committee is bringing in.
“We’ll be doing our main advertising push after Steamboat Days,” Craft said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to market locally until that event is over. We’ve partnered with Pritchard Broadcasting so we’re going to do a lot of radio to reach those rock markets.”
Craft said the city should be expecting to have all the hotel rooms taken up for the weekend which will benefit the city’s hotel/motel tax funds. He said he’s also working with city staff to be able to provide reserved camping.
He said his committee has tailored the music the way they did so people would come into town on Thursday and stay through the weekend to take advantage of more of the same type of music they saw on Thursday, all at one price.
Tickets are currently on sale through Ticketfly. A 4-day grounds pass good for all music is $35, with VIP tickets which grant access to upfront stage seating is $55 for all four days. Single day tickets are $25 each.
Craft said one hurdle is people who want to camp in the area for the weekend.
“The biggest hiccup is that they won’t pay for the whole weekend if they can’t reserve a camping spot. The Rodeo has first right of refusal so we’re working on that with the city. I’ve volunteered to handle that, but if we can get some of these camping sites with online reservations we can fill those up, too.”
Board member Julie Hellman suggested the open fields near the prison or even inside the prison walls, but Randolph said the liability with the Department of Corrections would be too high.
In other action, the board heard from Fort Madison documentarian and historian, Mike Killoren ,who has offered to create marketing videos for the city that could be played on hotel or restaurant televisions and monitors, or other locations that have televisions. Killoren said he wasn’t looking for any funding, but was willing to put the videos together. He said hotels could play the videos so people staying in the area could see what other attractions and history are available during their stays.
Killoren said the videos could be uploaded to jump drives and installed directly on the television and could be loaded with several different videos that the locations could control and would give people, even in waiting rooms at hospitals, an opportunity to plan to explore the area.
City Tourism director Jean Peiton also informed the board of a new app and website service that she wanted to integrate city tourism with, which would allow visitors or those looking at visiting the area to download and have at their fingertips on their phones. She said the city’s site still isn’t smartphone compatible and this would give the city a more user-friendly tool to market the area. She said the company called TourBurst out of Nauvoo is charging around $4,000 per year for the app and website management. They are looking to get 25 more area communities involved to give it a regional impact.
Board members Kim Engle and Julie Hellman questioned the value of the app and what the incentive would be to download the app. Peiton said the cost is about the same as one print ad and website presence in the Chicago area. City Manager David Varley said this is something the city should try and see what value comes from it and if it doesn’t deliver or goes belly up, the city can opt out next year. Peiton said ultimately city businesses, who would be included in the first year at no cost to them, would in following years be asked to pay a fee to be included in the app program, to offset the annual costs.