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Ottawa council mulls future of Riverfest

Smaller, 2-day festival considered

Art Alexakis, former Everclear frontman, performs with Naperville-based band Maggie Speaks at Ottawa's Riverfest in August. The Riverfest Committee is discussing changes to next year's festival, including moving music performances to a smaller venue to spend less on lighting and sound.
Art Alexakis, former Everclear frontman, performs with Naperville-based band Maggie Speaks at Ottawa's Riverfest in August. The Riverfest Committee is discussing changes to next year's festival, including moving music performances to a smaller venue to spend less on lighting and sound.

The results of Ottawa's annual Riverfest concert came in, and the attendance numbers were less than impressive, which continues a downward trend.

Mayor Bob Eschbach updated the City Council during a workshop session Monday and said a rough breakdown shows the festivities cost $42,000, with the Taste of Ottawa portion taking up $26,000 of that sum.

"I've been working with the committee for a couple years now, and they've really worked hard on putting together a good show, and I think they've done a good job, but the number just doesn't seem to be there, and it's something we may want to revisit," Eschbach said.

Eschbach said the Riverfest Committee suggested simplifying the festivities and making it smaller akin to other events such as the Wine and Jazz Fest. This would include moving it to a smaller venue with a smaller stage, which would mean less spent on lighting and sound as well as possibly making it a two-day event.

He added that the offerings in the community have changed since the festival began and was once five days long.

"When Riverfest was first initiated, it was about the only festival in town and everyone saved up their energy and their money, and now we have a festival almost every month or so," Eschbach said.

Commissioner Dan Aussem agreed and said since the festival's induction, there is now an event going on every weekend in the county. He suggested events with a special niche, such as the Wine and Jazz Fest, is what attracts larger crowds.

Commissioner Tom Ganiere said his concern was that the festival is the only one focused on a younger crowd, whereas the Wine and Jazz Fest and Kris Kringle Market tend to attract older crowds.

"We have to have something at some point in time for the young people to keep them here and keep them engaged," he said.

Eschbach noted a carnival was not present this year due to no carnival businesses being interested because of previous low attendance.

He also noted many dined at local restaurants before heading to Riverfest.

"Even though these festivals cost some money, I think all of the people that I've talked to in the food and beverage business, downtown particularly, said during events like Wine and Jazz Fest and Riverfest, they're packed," Eschbach said. "So it does bring people into town, but they're not necessarily eating at the Taste of Ottawa."

He said the committee will look into how much a smaller festival would cost. The council will return to the discussion at a future meeting.​

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