Brookfest has lost its luster. That was the determination of Brookfield village trustees Monday night, when they agreed to cancel the mid-summer festival for 2006 and examine other community-oriented events that might take its place.
No trustees rose to the fest’s defense, with a majority acknowledging that Brookfest’s carnival had become a magnet for trouble and that its value as a benefit to the village and its residents was suspect.
“With the amount of stress it causes and the amount of money it takes to put on Brookfest,” I don’t see the net benefit,” said Village President Michael Garvey.
The decision to cancel the event for at least one year came on the heels of news that the event also turned a profit for the second year in a row. Brookfest, according to figures supplied by Chicago Special Events, the company hired to organize the event each year, cleared a profit of just over $6,200.
The problem according to village staff is that the village made the bulk of its money on the four-day carnival that accompanies the music fest, which has been held for the last 12 years in July at Jaycee Ehlert Park. The carnival, however, was singled out as the main source of problems.
In 2004, several fights broke out in the carnival, one of which resulted in an injury to a police officer. Organizers beefed up security in 2005, erecting a fence around the carnival to limit access and stepping up police presence. Police reported fewer fights in 2005, but still concluded the carnival was a problem and one teenage boy was injured in a Sunday night incident this year.
“For us, we wanted the carnival eliminated,” said Police Chief Thomas Schoenfeld. “It was the problem area, and it was outsiders causing the problems. Every year the carnival has been an increasing problem.
“There are just absolutely mobs of youths everywhere,” he added. “It’s a shame, but they are there bent on causing a disturbance.”
The trouble, according to Recreation Department staff, is that without the carnival, Brookfest isn’t viable financially. In 2005, the carnival generated approximately $23,000 or roughly 16 percent of total revenues from the fest.
This year, the carnival also resulted in higher costs for security and from the Public Works Department, which was charged with setting up and taking down the added fencing at the carnival site.
Trustee Linda Stevanovich suggested perhaps the village could charge for entry into the carnival and cut down on troublemakers who simply wander into and through the carnival. While Trustee Catherine Colgrass Edwards said that there was little trouble at the carnival when the village did charge for entrance in the past, Trustee Kit Ketchmark said there was a backlash from residents about having to pay to get into the carnival.
Trustee Michael Towner said that the carnival had received a reputation as unsafe, and that it might take years to change that perception, even with an admission charge.
“People are scared to take their families there,” Towner said. “Once it has that reputation, you can try to revive it, but it will take years to get it back.”
Garvey also raised safety concerns related to the fest’s fireworks display, which caps off Brookfest on Sunday night. While many at this year’s fest felt the 2005 display was the best ever, Garvey also disclosed that it almost didn’t happen at all because of wind gusts that night.
While most of the shells went off without a hitch, one misfired and damaged a bathroom facility in the park. No one was injured.
“This past year, the fireworks seemed like a catastrophe waiting to happen,” Ketchmark said. “As enjoyable as it was, when you see firefighters walking down the street with fire extinguishers, you have to rethink this before you have a disaster.”
Without the carnival, which brings in money, and the fireworks, which draws local residents to line the sidewalks surrounding Ehlert Park, there’s little confidence in Brookfest.
“If we don’t have a carnival and fireworks, Brookfest would be a disaster,” said Trustee Alan Dorobiala.
Garvey suggested that the village’s Special Events Commission explore alternatives to Brookfest that would draw local residents and be less of a burden on Brookfield’s two-person Recreation Department. He held up North Riverside Day, an event held in September in that village, as an example of a community-centered event, or even the Brookfield Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest, originally conceived as a joint effort with the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce, was held from 2002-04 in the Grand/Prairie district. Though it was successful those three years, the village didn’t hold an Oktoberfest in 2005.
“We did it for public exposure to local businesses,” said Stevanovich, who was a key organizer for that event in the past. “As an economic development tool, it was very successful.”
Garvey also said that while the event turned a profit in the past two years, weather made Brookfest, which had expenses totaling $134,000 in 2005, a financial time bomb.
“If we had a weekend washout, we could lose $100,000 on this event,” Garvey said. “Should we be in the festival business when we have other priorities? I think we need to get our priorities back in order.”