The Lumberjack Days era has ended in Stillwater.
By a 5-0 vote Tuesday night, the City Council parted ways with the popular but debt-prone summer festival that brought tens of thousands of people into downtown Stillwater for big-name concerts, lumberjack competitions, arts displays and one of the longest parades in Minnesota.
But the celebration also drew heavy criticism in recent years for unpaid bills and rowdy drunken behavior. Many residents said it was too big for a community festival, while some downtown business owners said they lost their local customers during the four-day event.
"Lumberjack Days is dead as we've known it. This is the day the music died. I don't believe it's coming back anytime soon," Mayor Ken Harycki said Tuesday before the vote. The action means the city canceled its contract with the Lumberjack Days Festival Association and promoter David Eckberg to use city parks, dispense alcohol, and rent police and fire services. Eckberg owns St. Croix Events, the company that coordinated Lumberjack Days, and concedes that he owes thousands of dollars to vendors, businesses and school groups.
The mayor said he didn't favor supporting another festival anytime soon, although he acknowledged the need for a public hearing on the idea.
An irritated Jesse Kurtz, who with his business partner Bob Hart has proposed a new summer festival called Stillwater River Days, said after the meeting that the mayor hadn't responded to invitations to discuss their plan.
"Who's to judge who's qualified and who's not?" Kurtz said.
The City Council also voted 5-0 to sign a contract with RES Specialty Pyrotechnics of Belle Plaine to put on Stillwater's fireworks show on July 4. Eckberg previously had handled that contract.
The city could pay up to $30,000 for the show but the amount remained in question Tuesday night because City Administrator Larry Hansen advised that additional money should be spent to upgrade the music sound system.
Oak Park Heights also contributed $7,000 for the show.
Eckberg has said that flooding and storms severely dented Lumberjack Days profits last summer. Five complaints to Stillwater police have led to a Washington County Sheriff's Office investigation. County Attorney Pete Orput will consider criminal charges when the investigation is complete, but at this point Eckberg has not been charged with a crime.
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 • Twitter: @stribgiles