Stillwater has invited event organizers with experience in summer festivals to submit proposals for how they might replace Lumberjack Days, the four-day bash that went belly up in 2011 after numerous allegations of financial misdealings.
The city already has received five inquiries about the request, which asks for a theme and festival name that complements Stillwater’s history, captures the St. Croix River setting and is satisfactory to the City Council.
The Lumberjack Days name supposedly is owned by David Eckberg, owner of St. Croix Events, who produced Lumberjack Days festivals since the 1990s. Eckberg is charged with 10 felonies related to worthless checks and unpaid bills, and he appeared in a pretrial hearing in Washington County District Court on the matter last week.
Stillwater’s community development director, Bill Turnblad, said that “it would be nice to know if we could use that name again” but that public reaction both supports and opposes the idea and the city hasn’t taken a position.
The City Council hasn’t yet lifted a moratorium it declared on summer festivals after a police investigation into Eckberg’s financial dealings began. He’s accused of failing to pay bills owed to several businesses, volunteer groups and even the city.
The festival’s popular parade took place in residential neighborhoods, but most of Lumberjack Days, including concerts and fireworks, had been held in downtown Stillwater on the banks of the St. Croix River.
“It’s six acres of really good property for putting on an event,” Turnblad said of the Lowell Park location, which he sees as marketable property that could produce some revenue. The city won’t pay for the new event but will issue needed permits and wants “a specified percentage of gross receipts” in exchange for using the city’s name and venue, according to the request for proposals.
Event organizers must submit their proposals by Sept. 25, and the City Council will review finalists on Oct. 1, Turnblad said.
Just what shape a new summer festival might take depends on how the City Council acts on proposals — or whether it acts at all.
“The geographic area to draw festivalgoers from should be concentrated on the greater Stillwater area, but should not ignore the Twin Cities region,” the city’s request said.
If the moratorium on summer festivals has a silver lining, it’s that Stillwater has seized the opportunity to undertake construction projects near the riverfront, including a long-awaited flood wall funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a walking trail that will be added next year.
“If there’s a good year not to have them, this would be it,” Turnblad said. “This would have been a messy year for a big event.”
Eckberg’s trial is scheduled for October. City leaders have said they want tighter control over any future events, and they’re also trying to determine what type of events Stillwater residents think would be best for the city. A recent survey on the matter showed residents divided on whether events should be big or small, remain local or become a regional draw.
The city prefers to find a new event organizer who can “show their positive experience in these summer events,” Turnblad said.