Volunteers of Wild Cat Country Fest requested the county’s permission on May 10 to use the courthouse lawn to house concertgoers for its downtown music festival, which recently changed venues, much to the chagrin of some business owners and some members of the board of supervisors who felt “blindsided.”
Although the Jasper County Board of Supervisors approved organizers’ request in a 3-0 vote, the group needed to meet certain conditions.
To use the courthouse lawn, organizers must show proof of liability insurance, form an agreement with the county to cover any damages to the courthouse grounds, get 75 percent of nearby business owners on board with the festival and receive approval from the city to use the north and west sides of the square.
Fierce Faith Music’s Christian music festival — which takes place the day after Wild Cat Country Fest — also sought approval of the use of courthouse grounds. The board of supervisors granted the request with the same contingencies laid out for the country music festival organizers.
Dana VanGilder, a board member of the Wild Cat Country Fest Foundation, met with supervisors in-person to discuss the matter further and offer explanation to what she described as a “prematurely published” press release from organizers announcing the venue change to the town square without prior approval.
The press release, dated May 5, said the June 18 music festival could no longer be held at the Fore Seasons Festival Grounds due to “inflationary pressures” of bussing and creating a gravel roadway on the grounds to allow for ambulance or fire trucks to enter the facility in case of an emergency.
According to the Jasper County website, the May 10 board agenda was posted early afternoon on May 6, confirming the organization did want to speak with the supervisors. Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma said he is “not a fan of being blindsided” the way that he was.
“All of a sudden at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday I get texts from department heads asking, ‘What the heck’s going on?’” he said. “…I then spend four-and-a-half hours on the phone talking to city officials, county department heads, fellow elected officials trying to figure out what the heck’s going on.”
Then on Friday downtown business owners contacted Talsma asking him what is happening. VanGilder said that was not the group’s intent and apologized.
“From our point of view, we’re trying to do what we feel is something good,” VanGilder said. “We’re not trying to impose something terrible and nasty on the community. We’re trying to bring something that we felt was a real positive and could turn into an annual event the community could really look forward to.”
Talsma also said the county maintenance director has concerns about having thousands of people on the courthouse lawn and potentially damaging it or leaving trash on it for staff to clean up. VanGilder said volunteers plan on cleaning up the premises after the concerts.
If, by chance, the courthouse grounds is damaged during the music festivals, VanGilder said the group will replace it at its expense.
Jasper County Supervisor Doug Cupples said he is fine with allowing the use of the courthouse lawn for the concerts, saying it is public property.
VanGilder admitted the venue change is short notice, but the logistics to hold it at Fore Seasons this moment was not possible with inflated costs and the current budget the nonprofit was working with. Board members suggested downtown could be a feasible venue space, citing past success with RAGBRAI concerts.
Wild Cat Country Fest would have two stages of music while Fierce Faith Music has one stage of music.
If the festival is held downtown, VanGilder said it has already been determined it could not be set up on or block off First Avenue (the south side of the square) or First Street (the east side of the square). At Fore Seasons, organizers of both music festivals were expecting thousands of people to attend.
“We determined (downtown) would be a good option for us. It would save some money,” VanGilder said at the board of supervisors. “We would only have to sell 1,500 to 2,500 (tickets) instead of 3,000 to 5,000.”
In order to hold it downtown, VanGilder said city council member Vicki Wade — another board member of Wild Cat Country Fest — told the foundation they needed at least 75 percent of the nearby business owners to be in favor of the festival, referring to a yet-to-be-approved special events policy.
At the May 2 city council meeting, elected officials disputed the fairness of the 75 percent approval from business owners, with some even suggesting it be stricken from the special events policy and application. Otherwise, it could be jeopardizing events like community parades or the farmers market, council members said.
Regardless, getting business owners’ approval could be a challenge for the music festivals. Bonnie Terpstra, owner of The Farmer’s Wife, was skeptical of the event, telling supervisors she doubted concertgoers would shop for home decor in her store and then leave to see a concert and grab a beer.
“I’m going to be affected quite a bit. Saturday sales is my biggest day of the week when people have off and aren’t working,” Terpstra said. “I’ve dealt for 15 years of having a bar next to me. You have loud music and alcohol, you have litter, you have vomit, you have fighting.”
Which Terpstra said has led to her paying more than $5,000 in window repairs through the years of being located next to a bar, referring to the long-closed Scoreboard. Terpstra said her customers are not going to shop her store that day because of limited parking. Terpstra said events like this don’t draw customers.
“I’ve been there for 20 years,” she said. “I’ve seen multiple events come and go. And it doesn’t help … For this to be thrown at me through social media finding out has just been very hard for me to swallow, and to not take my business into consideration has been really hard.”
Julia Prendergast, owner of Fine Things Reclaimed and five downtown properties, said she understands what Terpstra is saying but argued most businesses will not be negatively impacted because the concerts do not start until 2 p.m. Terpstra said her store is open until 4 p.m.
Prendergast suggested the exposure the concerts will bring to the downtown businesses will be valuable.
“Maybe they’ll come back and shop here,” Prendergast said. “I think maybe there are more businesses that are absolutely for this than against it. Again, I’m sure you guys will talk to all of them. But from that side of it, great marketing for downtown Newton.”
With thousands of people in the town square, VanGilder argued businesses would benefit from the event. At the meeting, VanGilder addressed business owners who may have heard “misinformation through the rumor mill,” saying organizers never intended to slight anyone.
“We’ve only just made a decision in one week and we’re trying to work our way through all the procedures and proper channels that made this happen — and they were, first and foremost, our first priority in discussion when we first thought of the idea to come down here,” VanGilder said.
If potential customers want to visit downtown businesses on the north and west sides of the square the morning of or the day of the concerts, VanGilder said they will have to enter through the two different entrances the group is designing. All the concertgoers will be given wristbands upon entry.
“If they don’t have a wristband and they’ve come in under the premise that they’re coming to Uncle Nancy’s and then they grab their coffee and come out and stand in front of the stage, then we will be asking them to buy a ticket,” VanGilder said. “But we are not going to deny people access to the businesses.”
Supervisors asked if Maytag Park, Legacy Plaza or the Jasper County Fairgrounds in Colfax were ever considered for new venues. VanGilder said there were parking issues at the park. Legacy Plaza is an option but it not allow Fore Seasons owner Dawn Peters to be in charge of the liquor license and sales.
VanGilder said Peters has invested a lot of time and effort into organizing the event, so the group wants to keep Fore Seasons in the picture in some way. Peters has stated publicly that although she is disappointed in the venue change, she still supports the concert and encouraged all to attend.
“We’re trying to pull this together. We believe we can,” VanGilder said. “We worked over the numbers. As long as we can do a good, hard marketing push and have the support of the community, I think we can pull it off.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or email@example.com