Daily Herald - Suburban Chicago's source for news This copy is for personal, non-commercial use. To order presentation-ready copies for distribution you can: 1) Use the "Reprint" button found on the top and bottom of every article, 2) Visit reprints.theygsgroup.com/dailyherald.asp for samples and additional information or 3) Order a reprint of this article now.
Article updated: 4/11/2013 5:48 AM

RiverEdge to host Aurora Puerto Rican fest despite initial cost concerns

By Marie Wilson

RiverEdge Park will be the site for the 42nd Aurora Puerto Rican Heritage Festival this July, despite initial concerns about the cost of using the new venue.

Organizers began looking for other locations when they were told it would cost $26,500 to rent the park for two days, but they credit the city, the Aurora Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board and the Aurora Civic Center Authority with helping them make ends meet.

Mirna Lopez-Freitag, president of the Aurora Puerto Rican Cultural Council, said the first estimate she received would have cost $16,000 more than the two-day festival is projected to make.

She began looking for other locations, and hearing complaints from community members disappointed the celebration could not take place at Aurora's newest outdoor venue -- RiverEdge Park, which is set to celebrate its grand opening June 14 along the Fox River north of downtown.

"I was hit hard when I saw the first estimate," she said, about the $26,500 projection she was given in March from the Civic Center Authority, which is managing the park during its first season under a contract with the city. "I did not expect that from a park that belongs to the city."

While there are some additional costs associated with renting RiverEdge, the Civic Center Authority made adjustments to accommodate the Puerto Rican Heritage Festival and is in the process of similar negotiations with the Aurora Hispanic Chamber of Commerce about Fiestas Patrias in September, said Carie Anne Ergo, the city's chief management officer.

"We knew we'd have to work with them to understand what their needs were to get them at the park," Ergo said. "There are some fixed costs that occur with the park that didn't occur in the past."

Lopez-Freitagsaid her group needed to retain as much revenue as possible from the festival to break even or possibly have money remaining to put toward scholarships. Organizers also needed help meeting unexpected costs such as $6,000 in general park rent and $3,000 in sound and lighting equipment rental that were not part of the budget when the festival was held across the river in the North River Street parking lot.

Ergo said the Civic Center Authority has given the Puerto Rican Cultural Council permission to handle beer sales at the festival, scheduled for July 27 and 28, and reap the revenue from those sales. For most other events, beer sales will be handled exclusively by a company that has a contract with park management, she said.

The Civic Center Authority also is looking to buy sound and lighting equipment to leave at the park permanently, eliminating the need to charge community groups that use the park $1,500 a day to rent it.

"The park is an asset," Ergo said about RiverEdge, which cost about $13.2 million to construct, with $13 million coming from grants. "Maintaining it -- the stage, sound, lighting, tickets, fencing -- all of that takes staff, time and money. Neither the city nor (the Civic Center Authority) is looking to make money on the park, but they are looking to break even."

So is the Puerto Rican Cultural Council. Freitag-Lopez said she thinks that should be possible, especially because the Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board has pledged to fill the gap between the festival's budget and rental costs.

After adjustments made to the original rental estimate, Ergo said the donation from the advisory board, which doles out $25,000 of city funding each year for promotion of cultural events, should be about $3,000.

One issue still in the works involves a carnival both the Puerto Rican fest and Fiestas Patrias have featured in the past. RiverEdge lacks space for a carnival, but Freitag-Lopez said revenue from the rides is an important part of the event's funding model. She said she is working with the city to find a nearby location across Broadway to accommodate a carnival setup.

Ed Miranda, vice president of the Aurora Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said he is 90 percent sure the chamber will be able to host Fiestas Patrias at RiverEdge.

"It looks like we're really close," he said. "The city is bending over backward to accommodate pricing and additional locations for our carnival, which is something we really wanted to happen."

Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.