On the Waterfront festival ends - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

On the Waterfront festival ends


A Labor Day weekend staple in downtown Rockford goes belly up. Mike Dunn with the The Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment authority confirms On the Waterfront is shutting down.

If you went to this year's On the Waterfront, you went to your last.

 Our partners at the Rockford Register Star say the weight of unpaid debts was the cause of the cancellation.

The end of the festival also means change to businesses that line the streets where the summer celebration normally takes place.

 A few business owners and patrons who we spoke with all say very similar things.  They believe the On the Waterfront festival has been on a decline over the past few years, and say they saw the end coming.

"Inevitable is the exact words I would use," says  Andrew Kellogg, who attended nearly every 'On the Waterfront' festival since it began nearly 30 years ago.  

OTW used to be the largest summer musical festival in Illinois.

"I have seen the changes and I've been very depressed by the changes because it started as a festival for the people and for free or very close to free, to something that was very profit driven," says Kellogg.  

This last festival, the last festival,  tickets cost $15 at the gate.

JR Kortman owner Doc Slafkosky believes high ticket cost is to blame. "I know the economy is a factor there, but I think sometimes in Rockford we use the economy as an excuse for everything that doesn't work, where we aren't looking at maybe other reasons why things don't quite work out the way they should."

Slafkosky says their shop was often at odds with On the Waterfront organizers. "Waterfront actually tried to I think exclude businesses from the event. And I think that's a big mistake because you can't exclude something that's so much a part of the city."

Regardless of their relations,  Slafkosky says his business historically did very well during Waterfront weekends.

That's not the case for Michael Leifheit, owner of the Irish Rose.  

"We've actually always thought it was good for the downtown. It's actually our worst weekend of the summer, but it doesn't have to be. And that was one of my gripes with the whole thing."

Leifheit says accessibility and limited parking during the festival helped make for poor business.

Nothing is set in stone just yet, but we can tell you On the Waterfront's departure doesn't mean a lifeless downtown this summer.

RAVE plans to take over summer festivals downtown.

RAVE board chair Mike Dunn confirms in the last month, RAVE has been in talks with event planning services, readying themselves to take on On the Waterfront.  

Dunn says it might not look the same, or go by its traditional name, but there are plans for another downtown festival.

2013 would have been the 29th year for On the Waterfront.

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