Thursday, February 27, 2020

Future of Belleville Strawberry Festival questioned

The fate of a decades-old tradition in the City of Belleville is in the hands of the new interim city manager as members of the city council questioned the viability of the National Strawberry Festival at a recent meeting..
Belleville City Councilman Ken Voight suggested that the city may not reap any benefit from the annual National Strawberry Festival in the city and inquired as to the reason the city continues the 44-year-old event.

Voigt's comments came near the end of the meeting and he said that when the festival began, three churches, strawberry growers and the service clubs in the city benefitted from the festival which featured entertainment and a juried craft show. According to Voight, the Belleville Area Chamber of Commerce would make $40,000 to $50,000 from the carnival rides which funded chamber activities throughout the year. He said that last year, the chamber only realized $12,000 and the Central Business Commission only made $3,500 from the craft show.
“Why are we doing this? Disrupting the town for four days without strawberries,” he asked.
Voight's sentiments seemed to be validated by Mike Kole from the chamber of commerce who said that he asked chamber members about the festival and found that 70 percent of chamber members did not and would not attend the Strawberry Festival. He told the council than many local businesses actually close for the weekend and that 40 percent of the funds generated goes to “two people.”
“We don't need that $12,000. The people on Main Street, our members, don't want it,” he told the council..
Members of the council referred the agreements and the issue to recently- hired interim City Manager Tracy Schultz-Kobylarz, named to her new position earlier this month. She was instructed to meet with members of the Strawberry Festival Committee and members of the Chamber of Commerce before making a recommendation to the council regarding continuing or cancelling the festival.
No date or timeline for her report was discussed.