It appears the annual Sawdust Days festival in Oshkosh is reaching a crossroads. Last night, the Oshkosh Advisory Parks Board approved a new slate of special event fees to cover the revenue that is lost when events prevent the general public from using things like boat launches and shelters. For Sawdust Days, that would mean an additional $7000 a year in fees--as they prevent the rental of most shelters in Menominee Park--while also blocking the main boat launch and docks for several days every July. That will be on top of the fees they are already charged for city services like police, ambulance and electrical service.
As Chairperson Ellen Schmidt has pointed out numerous times, Sawdust Days doesn't have the money to pay for such fees--and she continues to hint that they may just pack up the tent and go home if they continue to get charged more and more every years. But Parks Boardmember Bill Gogolewski provided an option for them last night that I have been advocating for years: downsize the festival.
I know the Sawdust Days people take great pride in what they put on each year--and they firmly believe that admission should be free. But free don't pay the bills. And when you hold fast to limiting your revenues like that, then your expenses have to be cut. As Gogolewski pointed out, if Sawdust Days didn't tie up the boat landings and docks they could save almost $4000 right there. And if the festival went from five days to just a couple of days, their special event permit fee from the city would be reduced by almost 60%.
The time has come for the Sawdust Days committee to let go of what they consider to be the "traditional festival" and adjust to modern realities. Ms Schmidt responded to downsizing suggestions with the pat answer of "we've always done that" when it came to the suggestion of getting rid of the midway rides or one of the music stages or not having a rodeo on one of the ball diamonds.
If somebody thinks there is enough demand in Oshkosh for crappy midway rides they can rent the parking lots of the former KMart or Wal-Mart and charge people as they drive in to do the rides. If members of the Mexican-American community believe there is enough demand for their music and vendors in Oshkosh, they can rent the Sunnyview Expo Center and charge people admission to get in the gate or the buildings. The Buckskinners can pay their own park rental fees and set up at any time during the summer. And the city and Festival Foods can continue to pay for the 4th of July fireworks.
So it's up to the Sawdust Days folks now. Put on a small and still free event--or watch as the same number of people show up for the fireworks at night anyway.