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updated: 4/25/2011 2:40 PM

RibFest planned in Vernon Hills

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  • The Vernon Hills Park District wants to host a 2-day Ribfest this summer at Century Park.

      The Vernon Hills Park District wants to host a 2-day Ribfest this summer at Century Park.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer, 2005


A modest idea to provide entertainment for adults has evolved into what Vernon Hills Park District organizers think could be a big-time annual attraction.

Contracts have not been signed but planning is swiftly moving toward a RibFest in Century Park, a late-August event featuring live music, food and adult beverages for the 21-and-over crowd.

"We'd been debating something like a Chili Fest," explained Tom Ritter, superintendent of recreation. "There's no question the primary purpose of RibFest is to try and reach out to the adults in the community."

As they batted around ideas, Ritter and recreation supervisor Marty Walsh got a call from Sleepy Hollow businessman Bob Shields, whose research had shown the area in and around Vernon Hills was ripe for a big event based on grilled pork.

"I am the one who developed the idea based on the demographics of the area," Shields said. "They don't have an event like that, so why not?"

Shields said rib-centered events are the fastest growing segment of summer entertainment, noting the popularity of those in Naperville, Lake in the Hills and Chicago.

"Most of the other local events don't grow. Ribs do," he said.

The pitch came with another upside for the park district.

"In this kind of economy where municipalities and governmental (agencies) don't know where the next dollar is coming from, we're guaranteeing the cost," Shields said.

Shields would coproduce the festival with Criterion Productions of Chicago as the event manager.

Bands would play both days and four "ribbers" would provide the namesake entree. Tentative times are noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28. Admission is proposed at $5.

"We're promoting it as Blues, beer and ribs. People have been asking for more adult special events," Walsh added.

Details are being worked out, but the park district would share any profits with Shields and apply its earnings to the district's Family Scholarship Program.

While the park district coordinates many events, they are single-day, three- to four-hour family-oriented activities, and a two-day RibFest is well beyond the norm.

Because of the magnitude, the district also is seeking the help of the village. Vernon Hills has expertise in logistics for such events, notably its annual four-day Summer Celebration, a regional draw.

"It's going to be a multifaceted partnership," Walsh said. "That's what we're working out -- who's going to do what."

RibFest to some extent would mirror the site layout of Summer Celebration, but without carnival rides.

The idea got an enthusiastic reception last week from village trustees, who informally agreed to waive the cost of assistance for setup and site security.

"I believe the community needs more of these localized ... events," said Village Trustee Jim Schultz. "I am 100 percent behind this."

The would-be partners at this point have no idea what kind of turnout to expect, but hope it can become an annual experience.

"I want everyone to walk out of this saying, `What an awesome event. I can't wait until next year,' even if we don't make money," Ritter said.