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Progress 2007 Development & finance

Festival organizer, county officials seek to make tourism boon a win-win

April 21, 2007

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The Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival kicked off with a massive traffic jam in June 2006. Security checks at the festival entry point were blamed for the traffic jam June 8 that had Clinton Parkway and Kansas Highway 10 backed up for several hours.

The Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival kicked off with a massive traffic jam in June 2006. Security checks at the festival entry point were blamed for the traffic jam June 8 that had Clinton Parkway and Kansas Highway 10 backed up for several hours.

Festival attendees hitch a ride on the back of a car on their way in to the concert site.

Festival attendees hitch a ride on the back of a car on their way in to the concert site.

The show must go on.

The Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival will take place for another year, even after the event's organizer soured somewhat about how last year's massive concert turned out.

Last year's four-day festival attracted more attention not for the music, but for several arrests of concertgoers for drug violations as well as the perception from some fans that law enforcement had a heavy presence.

After the festival, organizer Brett Mosiman issued a statement that said he would need assurances that law enforcement's approach to the festival would be different this year.

Mosiman now said that he believes that this year's festival could be a better experience for fans.

"We're hoping for a kinder and gentler festival all the way around," Mosiman said. "The vast majority of our patrons, like any gathering, are law-abiding and peaceful people, and deserve to be treated like that."

He said before he decided to put the festival on for 2007, Mosiman went out and tried to get a feel for whether the community wanted the event to return, given some of the negative coverage it received in 2006.

The response he got prompted him to give the festival another year at Clinton Lake State Park.

Craig Weinaug, Douglas County administrator, said he believes the festival should become a fixture in the community.

"The community wants the event," Weinaug said. "County commissioners have expressed support for the event, and we want to do everything possible to make this the best possible music festival anywhere.

"That being said, the officials being responsible for law enforcement and public safety, the key person being the sheriff, also wants to make it clear we expect that laws will be enforced and public safety will be maintained."

The county's main role in planning for the event involves organizing sheriff's deputies to work overtime for the event. Last year, Mosiman initially paid $53,316 for their services; he then paid more than $1,000 for additional officer support after the festival ended.

It's one of the costs to support a concert where 15,000 concertgoers descend upon the festival site.

Mosiman said it costs between $2 million and $3 million on expenses and talent to put the show on.

"It's a very big and expensive undertaking," Mosiman said.

Lawrence city administrators have less involvement with planning for the festival.

Like the county, most of its involvement comes from public safety to support the show.

Mark Bradford, Lawrence fire chief, said the city's role at the festival comes through fire and medical support.

Festival promoters reimburse the city for those costs of having that support, which is mostly overtime hours for personnel.

Last year, festival organizer cut a $17,500 check for the city's services to the event.

"I don't know that it's any greater time spent preparing for Wakarusa than for another event," such as a Kansas University basketball game, Bradford said.

On the whole, Mosiman believes those costs are worth it for the dollars brought to the local economy from visitors, as well as exposure for a state lacking in tourist attractions.

"I think it's a great showcase of the state," Mosiman said.

"It's pretty rewarding to see we've sold tickets in 50 states and six countries."

Given that the festival had trouble - or the perception of trouble - with lawlessness and law enforcement last year, organizers and government officials believe that this year's festival could end up with a better result.

"I'm optimistic that we will succeed this year," Weinaug said.

Mosiman shared that sentiment going into the event.

"I think for us the most disappointing thing last year is law enforcement got all the headlines," Mosiman said. "But the thing is we were out there to have a great time."

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