The Springs Spree festival was hatched decades ago as a way to breathe life into a desolate Colorado Springs downtown. Now, a more vibrant downtown has given the snub to its one-time benefactor, driving the festival out of its boundaries.
This year's Springs Spree, on June 21, will move from the city core to Memorial Park. The change of location comes after years of wrangling between festival organizers and the Downtown Partnership, which opines that the festival has outgrown its usefulness and tends to divert business from downtown shops and restaurants to booth owners.
Beth Kosley, Downtown Partnership's executive director, says she's not anti-festival, but she thinks people have lost interest in Springs Spree, and the fair no longer justifies blocking off Tejon Street.
"The event has to have a pretty good anchor or activity generator that's bringing in new faces and new crowds," she says.
Kosley says a poll of downtown business owners conducted after Springs Spree a few years ago found the majority wanted the festival to move. The Partnership began to put pressure on organizers.
Betsy McClenahan, coordinator of Springs Spree, says she did everything in her power to make the festival acceptable to the Downtown Partnership.
"We were really surprised this year when we were told they wanted us gone," McClenahan adds.
Last year, she says, she invested money and time to meet expectations. Booths were rearranged so that some faced stores, forcing patrons to walk by businesses and hopefully check out the merchandise. Stages were moved; port-a-potty stalls relocated.
Regina Romrell, owner of Regina's Unique Boutique, says she once loved the festival, but had been disappointed in recent years. Due to the changes last year, she says, the festival improved.
"Last year, they kind of brought it back," she says.
In fact, Romrell says she kept her store open last year for the festival the first time she had done so in years. And while the business wasn't great, it was decent. But Romrell says she's not sad the festival is moving, and she suspects other business owners, who over the years have tolerated everything from low sales to shoplifting during Springs Spree, won't be upset, either.
Wrong, says Luke Travins, co-owner of Concept Restaurants (Southside Johnny's, MacKenzie's Chop House, Ritz Grill and Jos Muldoon's). While shops may have suffered, he says, restaurants have done brisk business.
"We're not pleased," he says. "For as long as Springs Spree has been downtown, it has been an extremely successful event, rain or shine."
Travins says Springs Spree ranked with Mother's Day and New Year's as one of his biggest money-makers of the year.
But the argument between competing interests appears to have reached its end.
McClenahan says Springs Spree which attracts an estimated 60,000 to 80,000 visitors will never return to downtown. Instead, the festival will work to establish itself as a Memorial Park event. This year's event, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., will include everything from arts and crafts to karate demonstrations, dancing and live music. There will also be a "human hamster ball" activity. McClenahan explains this involves being strapped into a gigantic ball, then rolled down a hill.
Unfortunately, Springs Spree's famed rubber duck race will not be on the festival grounds. Fans of the cystic fibrosis benefit, in which thousands race their duckies downstream in hopes of winning prizes, can attend the race in its old location at Monument Creek.