BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A dust up at the Fort Madison City Council meeting left Mayor Matt Mohrfeld with authority to negotiate a lease agreement with RiverFest founder Charles Craft and the committee that runs the event.
At Tuesday’s regular council meeting, a lease agreement was on the agenda that would charge RiverFest $600 a year for the next three years for usage of Riverview Park for the four days of the annual event, plus three days to set up and tear down the event.
Councilman Chad Cangas initially made a motion to accept the lease agreement, but then without a second, conversation began about what some council members saw as a possible burden the lease places on future events in the city No action was taken on Cangas’ initial motion.
Mayor Matt Mohrfed said in his opinion the event shouldn’t have fees attached to it.
“I think we ought to let them do it for free,” Mohrfeld said. “I think he brings a lot of people to town, it’s a great attraction. We’re in the business of providing services to people and not charging events money. Now, is that realistic? I don’t know.”
Mohrfeld and Craft spoke Wednesday morning and came to an agreement where Craft would pay for the utilities associated with the event, which was included in the previous proposal, but no daily fee would be assessed.
Craft said the lease agreement in front of the council Tuesday was different than the one he had seen about a week earlier when he met with Public Works Director Mark Bousselot.
“I want it to be known, the city’s behind Riverfest and supports Riverfest and we support this city,” Craft said Wednesday morning. “I had a very productive conversation with the Mayor today. He’s working on the lease agreement. We’re gonna be paying for the utilities and things of that nature.”
Craft said he’s also talking with the Mohrfeld about how RiverFest is giving back and how being good stewards of the city is a priority with the festival.
Bousselot prepared the lease agreement with City Manager David Varley’s signature.
Councilman Rusty Andrews said he and Councilman Kevin Rink met with Bousselot about the agreement. Andrews said he commended Bousselot for trying to create some standards for all events. Andrews is a member of the RiverFest committee and Rink is liaison to the city’s parks board.
“But I’m on the other end of the spectrum of what that treatment should be.” Andrews said.
“I’ve said for a long time that if anyone walks into City Hall and says ‘I want to put on an event in Fort Madison, Iowa’, the first thing you should say is ‘what can I do for you’. Not hand them a piece of paper that shows a fee structure.”
Varley said the council needs to consider the ramifications of giving things away to a money making event, but to not others.
“When park board approved this event, they also approved a youth fishing tournament from the conservation corp and they had to pay $25 and I don’t know what to tell them if you give this to (RiverFest) for free,” Varley said.
“If somebody comes in and wants a graduation party or to rent the pavilion for a wedding. Do I charge them or do I say ‘No, you’re part of the community and we want to support you’. If you’re going to discuss this you need to think about the whole picture.”
Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker said there’s a substantial difference between a rental and an organization that has to put a million dollar insurance policy.
Andrews said if the event makes money that’s great because it can be reinvested to make an ever better event, but no individual was profiting from the event.
“You find me an event that makes money and somebody’s is profiting off it,” Andrews said. “It’s not a for-profit business. I understand their might be a structure there.”
Varley said he could produce someone who said Craft told on Friday night, that all proceeds from that point were profit.
“Last year the person that runs this event said on Friday night, ‘as of now all my costs are covered and everything going forward is pure profit in my pocket,” said City Manager David Varley. “So don’t tell me there’s no profit.”
Shanna Krogmeier, who also sits on the RiverFest committee, told the council that no one told Varley that all the money after Friday night was going to the pockets.
“What was probably said was that after Friday evening our costs were met so we could probably pay the bands for the rest of the weekend,” Krogmeier said.
“No,” Varley replied.
Craft said Wednesday that it’s easy for people to count heads and think there’s a lot of money being made.
“There’s a tremendous amount of costs involved in putting on a event like this. We spend $6,000 a year on porta potties and $3,000 on a tent.”
But Craft, who has a background in event promotion, said these types of negotiations are typically part of the process and RiverFest will be in Fort Madison as long as people continue to support it.
The lease agreement, Craft feared, would be forced on anyone trying to build an event in Fort Madison.
“While myself and the Rodeo can afford to pay those fees, and all those fees take away from money for next year, this could be cost prohibitive for any other event,” Craft said.
“I do not want RiverFest to be the reason someone else can’t get it off the ground.
“I’ve had nothing but words of encouragement and support from the council and mayor. As a whole, they’ve been very supportive and think it’s good for the city.”
Craft said the coronavirus has had a huge impact on festivals across the country and he believes that he may be the only multi-day rock festival left in the nation right now in 2020.
“It would have been an easy thing to hang it up with COVID and just do it next year,” he said.
“But were taking precautions and following state and federal guidelines but it’s the number one thing is personal responsibility. This is a free country. Freedom of assembly and movement is an individual right. If you don’t feel safe going to a large gathering, you shouldn’t go. Do what you feel is safe.”
This year’s event is slated for Aug. 5-8th with tickets currently on sale online. A 4-day pass if $42 and a 4-day VIP is $72. Individual dates are $30 per day and can be found at the following link: https://www.etix.com/ticket/v/16290/riverfest?