LEAVENWORTH — The popular Oktoberfest in Leavenworth will not happen in 2021 but if city officials have their way it will return in 2022, perhaps with a new organization leading the way.
The future of Oktoberfest was the topic of the Leavenworth Resident Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday. More than 50 people logged on to hear the Zoom meeting. The RAC is made up city residents who meet once a month to provide feedback on issues for the city council.
Leavenworth City Administrator Ana Cortez said the meeting was the first opportunity for stakeholders to provide input on Oktoberfest, an event that takes place the first three weekends in October. It is operated by the nonprofit group Projekt Bayern, whose mission is to promote the Bavarian theme. Typically, 20,000 people attend each weekend.
She said the meeting was another stage of the process leading up to a city council decision on the future of the event.
“Stakeholders are going to brainstorm, residents, merchants, council, mayor. Each of these stakeholders has to brainstorm and give us their best ideas on what they think the new concept for Oktoberfest ought to be,” Cortez said.
This will help to develop major themes, she said, then objectives for structure and programming. Ultimately, the city will issue a request for proposals. Then, the city will evaluate and determine the best partner or partners and enter into an agreement of some sort.
The city’s current contract with Projekt Bayern to operate Oktoberfest has been in place since 2012. Cortez said Projekt Bayern canceled the 2021 Oktoberfest.
“The reason why they are not operating Oktoberfest is because — my understanding — Projekt Bayern could not secure the different elements that make the event an authentic event. As the quality of the event would be impacted by the lack of availability of some services, they were not comfortable calling it Oktoberfest,” Cortez said.
Projekt Bayern is planning to operate a different event this year on the same dates with the same blueprint, she said. More details are expected to the city by June 1, she said.
The city has provided Projekt Bayern notification of termination of contract, Cortez said, for several reasons:
- The contract needed to be reviewed.
- City leadership wanted to input from certain stakeholders on such events.
- To change the contract and consider a new concept for 2022, notice has to be given 12 months in advance.
Several community members provided input on Oktoberfest during the meeting. RAC Board member Mike Bedard said most of his neighbors like Oktoberfest even though they are affected by it.
“With the experiences we’ve had during COVID with the downtown streets being shut down and having that pedestrian vibe down there — people love to see that kind of environment,” Bedard said. “Maybe making Oktoberfest more of a town event that restaurants and bars can participate in more readily versus the kind of excluded from.”
RAC Board member Kenzie Converse said she has worked downtown for 12 years during Oktoberfest and loves the event. She said she and her peers have enjoyed working those weekends.
“It can tend to be a drunken, aggressive almost unsafe environment for a lot of the people that work there regularly,” Converse said. “It’s more addressing the environment. It’s always been known as a drunk-fest. It’s feeling like a walk on the Vegas strip. I would like it to be more family-friendly or less focused on booze.”
RAC Board member Steven Booher said he would like to see the event spread out more as opposed to being so concentrated behind a fence.
“I would like to focus more on families and spread people out more with beer gardens throughout town. Make it more a downtown experience rather than a crazy house,” Booher said.
Leavenworth resident Maynard Man said his main concern was the lack of goodwill created by the organization and its board members.
“I think the behavior of some of the board members is completely beneath what a board member should be in a nonprofit organization,” Man said. “I believe there is a potential for the organization to have further partnerships with city vendors whether restaurants or retail spaces. Unfortunately, those concerns are usually met with hostility.”
Local businessman Oliver Brulotte said the values the city should look for in a new organization include, respect, professionalism, customer service mindset, transparency, community focus, mutually beneficial and inclusion.
“I think as a community it’s something we can expect to get out of this process. I don’t think it is too much to ask,” Brulotte said. “As a community, we can put a value on some of those things. I’m thankful we have leaders that have high standards and expectations. I applaud that because this process takes work. I applaud our community leaders for stepping out and trying to achieve something better for our community.”
Those interested in submitting more comments can email Cortez at email@example.com