Taste of St. Louis Departs for Chesterfield: What Does It Mean?

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Organizers of the Budweiser Taste of St. Louis festival (above) have announced that they will be moving the annual event to Chesterfield. The primary reason, according to reports by the Post-Dispatch and KMOX radio appears to be the Chesterfield amphitheater and the potential “to land big-name Food Network people”. Located in Chesterfield’s Central Park, the amphitheater has 300 fixed seats and additional terraced seating. The park’s website states it can accommodate 4,000. Organizers estimate 400,000 people attended last year’s event in downtown St. Louis.

Now entering its 10th year in the City, the event’s website says it has raised more than $200,000 in charitable donations given to Food Outreach, St. Patrick Center, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Blues Society, Benton Park Neighborhood Association and Soulard Restoration Group. There is no word as to whether the change in location will result in a change of philanthropic focus.

The quick reaction from the Twitterati (us included) was overwhelmingly negative. Taste was a favorite of many in the city. It won a St. Louis Magazine Reader’s Choice aware for best food event. For many, the downtown setting was a perfect setting. The festival has said that the Chesterfield location will invite a “more geographically diverse”. Parking was also cited as a challenge that using the Chesterfield Mall and shuttle buses will solve.

There would seem to be several problems with this reasoning. The City is the culinary center of the region. While there’s no monopoly on good food, the exciting and popular culinary efforts in St. Louis are largely in the City of St. Louis. Downtown St. Louis is easily reached by transit and parking is literally everywhere (though it is true that you may have to park in a garage). “It’s only 20 minutes from downtown,” Taste Marketing Director K. Sonderegger told KMOX of the new Chesterfield location. ”It’s very easy to get out there. Just hop on the MetroLink and the MetroBus.”

{it’s a joke, but really…}

Live in the Shaw Neighbohood and want to visit Taste festival without having to drive? Leaving your home at 10am on a Saturday, you would take the 80 bus to the Central West End MetroLink Station, take a train to the Delmar Station and then board the 91 Bus to Chesterfield Mall. That bus leg of the trip alone will take 58 minutes and include 93 stops. 93. The total one-way trip via transit is 2h 14min. And once there, you would board a shuttle to cross the road to the festival site. Needless to say, those living in the city and not wanting to drive will not attended the festival.

Does the festival care? It doesn’t seem to. The city setting? Not so important. A possible contract with the Food Network and an isolated, completely controlled ready made venue were the priorities. In the end, organizers wanted a different type of festival. Chesterfield’s Central Park is 38 acres in all. In addition to the amphitheater, the park is home to the Chesterfield Family Aquatic Center, and a YMCA.

{the Chesterfield Central Park amphitheater (circled in yellow) – home to St. Louis Bluesweek and Taste of St. Louis}

Does the City care? Beyond some of the silly explanations offered by Taste, there are interesting issues to discuss related to festivals, the city and downtown. More than at any time in the past century, downtown is a residential neighborhood. People have moved it, jobs continue to leave. Downtown is a great setting in many ways, but it’s not clear that events like Taste are a financial boon for the area. Closed streets and a crush of visitors typically isn’t good for basic retail and serving regular customers.

With seemingly ever more running events, parades, music, food, and other festivals, is it too much of a burden to place all of these downtown? Is downtown a festival site, a neighborhood, a central business district? How are these to be balanced? Of course some festivals can’t or won’t move – think Mardi Gras in Soulard or St. Patrick’s Day in Dogtown. But Pride St. Louis left South City and Tower Grove Park for downtown, the Veiled Prophet parade is relocating to Forest Park, and of course St. Louis Bluesweek just announced their move from downtown to the Chesterfield amphitheater. In that case, the Big Muddy Blues Festival remains downtown, and the move brings some kind of closure to the confusing two-blues fest calendar downtown.

So festivals are on the move. Each has its own feeling, vibe, and specific needs. Both Taste and Bluesweek are produced by Entertainment Saint Louis. In the meantime, a major new summer music festival may be heading for downtown. The proposal, called “Summer Rocks” (proposed festival site right) is connected to International Creative Management, a big time talent management group out of Los Angeles, and would be set in the area around Soldiers Memorial on the Gateway Mall (RFT story). Did Entertainment Saint Louis see the writing on the wall? Was the city about to be too full of events?

At least for Bluesweek, organizers were looking to downsize both the festival budget and attendance. Telling the Post-Dispatch that the downtown event cost $200,000 to produce, the new location will be cheaper and smaller. In 2013, it’s estimated that 55,000 to 65,000 people attended Bluesweek over three days. The 2014 event will be just two days, and the amphitheater’s capacity is 4,000. It’s good to remember that huge events like this are always expensive and very challenging to produce. As they grow, this becomes even more true. At its new home, the event will be ticketed, something that would have been difficult to do in downtown.

By any measure, Taste (and Bluesweek) was successful, and in a short amount of time. Pride was a huge event as well. In fact, big attendance numbers were one reason given for its move to downtown. In that case, a new festival call “Keep Pride in Tower Grove” has sprung up. There’s nothing inherently negative about festivals, parades, and other events finding the best location. However, the identity of a festival is often tied to its location.

What these festivals on the move have shown is that there’s a demand for such events in an urban setting, in the city. Finding the right formula to keep them there is another challenge. Can a growing LouFest remain in Forest Park? How about the St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival? When one stops to consider such things, the number of size of the festivals in St. Louis is nearly overwhelming. The sky isn’t falling on St. Louis, and Chesterfield will likely enjoy their food and blues just fine. As the festival scene here explodes, at times competing with long time events, how should priorities be managed? Which festivals should never move, which can go, and which (if any) is St. Louis missing?

[*edit] Mayor Slay’s Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford Tweeted that the City of St. Louis “hosted 60 significant events four years ago, and 230 last year. The problem isn’t losing events. It’s juggling all the dates.” We’re not sure how events are defined, but there’s no doubt the city’s calendar is packed. Perhaps the city should be seen as a festival start up, exporting some and hopefully keeping the ones that work best.

{the draft master plan for the Soldier’s Memorial area of the Gateway Mall}

*top image via Entertainment Saint Louis

[*edit] KSDK covers the news and makes me sound rather happy-go-lucky about the move. That’s about right.

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  • Larry

    The events moving to Chesterfield will be “out of sight, out of mind”. I’ll find something else to do with my time. Most likely, there will be a replacement event to fill the gap or a nice weekend in Chicago instead.

  • John R

    Interesting shake-up and it will be interesting to learn more about Entertainment Saint Louis versus city plans. The one thing we do know is that these events will be much smaller; perhaps they’ll make it from a profit stand point and keep going, but they’ll be limited in scope. No big loss for the city and replacement events will arise.

  • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

    Said it before, but the problem with hosting booze/food/music events at Soldier’s Memorial is that they are booze/food/music events at a memorial. For soldiers. It’s a bit disrespectful.

    Now if this wasn’t already the site of the STL Soldier’s Memorial, it would be a great space for events! Imagine if the central memorial was instead a dedicated stage area with fans/food/booths spread out from there. Imagine folks sitting across Olive on the Library steps escaping the crowds a bit and listening from afar.

    I’ll go one step further and concede how cool it would be to see people boarding/departing from a streetcar right at the edge of the festival grounds.!

  • T-Leb

    Bring Widespread Panic (already played there 3 times since grand reopening) back to Peabody and I will be a happy camper.

  • nuala

    The image of the draft master plan of Soldier’s Memorial area is just sort of thrown in there at the bottom of your article. Could you share a link as to where this master plan came from? Is it just an idea, is it part of cityarchriver? There is no info – just a random image.

  • matimal

    Yeah! I hope Applebees and the Cheesecake Factory are there!

  • John

    Here’s to a 0% chance that this will be successful.

    It will come back Downtown after one year. One failed festival.

    • http://yastlblog.blogspot.com/ Kevin Barbeau

      Well, I don’t know about all that.

      From a for-profit event management standpoint, 4,000 paid attendees is probably better than 30,000 free admissions. You limit secondary costs such as security, staffing, utliities, etc. You have assured revenue in the form of non-refundable pre-sales. Your budget becomes tighter and more manageable, while reducing risk of taking it on the chin from a rain-out/heat wave/etc.

      If St. Louisans were even remotely open to paying a $5 entrance fee — or even a $7 suggested donation — this move might not have happened. As is though, the backlash from the public when even a small fee is introduced…well, it ain’t pretty.

  • STLEnginerd

    The loss of Taste is pretty sad. Bluesweek can be whatever it wants to be (small and profitable, or big and notable) same i would say for other sort of niche events like Ribfest which are great to have downtown, but i think could establish a following elsewhere and be successful. But “Taste of St. Louis” always felt like it represented the food of the city, not the county or the region, so moving it to Chesterfield seems incredible. It doesn’t seem like it should even be allowed to move out of the city. As a show of unity i respect it but in this particular case, it still seems crazy.

    I tend to think the Arch grounds make for better festival grounds than If they don’t want it downtown, that’s fine, Forest Park was the obvious default alternative. Complete with historic Muny amphitheater for food network personalities.

    And as a veteran I for one don’t think its disrespectful in the least to hold festivals at memorials Soldier, Jefferson, or otherwise. It isn’t a grave site it is a commemoration to their contribution to history. The fact that a whole city block in the middle of downtown was dedicated to them speaks volumes to the level of respect that has already been paid.

  • tom

    Riding the metro up to Clayton and catching the #258 is faster than taking the #91. Wife uses it daily to work and home. Takes about an hour.

    • tom

      Not that we plan to attend. It should be in the city… We plan to gather take out from a few places downtown and eat at the memorial in protest.

  • Mark

    Its sounds like attendance at the Blues festival was marginal despite inflated attendance claims by the promoters. Sign-up for venders to the Taste of Chesterfield was extended from it’s original final date in June to Late July, no doubt due to lack of interest by venders in holding such an event out of the city and lack of any expected crowd. I am sad as I will miss the taste, but there is no way I/m going out to Chesterfield for anything let alone this. I suspect that the event will be canceled or this will be it’s last year.

  • M. Black

    Thanks, i didn’t know about this event. Sounds like a good time.