Naperville's Ribfest likely moving to Romeoville in 2020

  • Naperville's iconic Ribfest could be moving from its longtime home in Knoch Park to a site in Romeoville in 2020, organizers announced Wednesday.

    Naperville's iconic Ribfest could be moving from its longtime home in Knoch Park to a site in Romeoville in 2020, organizers announced Wednesday. Daily Herald file photo, 2018

Updated 4/17/2019 3:31 PM

It isn't yet a done deal, but Ribfest organizers are starting to work out the logistics of moving Naperville's iconic Fourth of July celebration to Romeoville in 2020.

The Exchange Club of Naperville announced Wednesday it is entering final discussions with Romeoville over a new home for the fest based on a recommendation from its Ribfest Relocation Team. A contract could be signed and approved "within a matter of weeks," club President John Dunham said.


Ribfest, which supports charities working to end child abuse and domestic violence, has been held at Knoch Park in Naperville since its second season in 1989. Because of planned renovations to the downtown-area site, the Exchange Club was forced to find a new location for the festivities after this summer's event, dubbed the "Last Nights at Knoch."

A variety of factors came into play while searching for Ribfest's next home, said Rick Grimes, the club's executive director.

"The first and most important thing for me was we had to find a true partner," he said. "Someone who knew what the event was about ... and somebody who knew what we could bring to their community."

Organizers looked at potential sites' size, proximity to Naperville, parking availability, and ability to accommodate a stage, carnival and other key features of the event. Several places fit the bill, Grimes said, but "Romeoville came out very high in every aspect."

The site under consideration is just north of 135th Street and Romeo Road on Romeoville's municipal campus, 1050 W. Romeo Road. Additional details about a potential contract were not immediately available.

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Grimes said the footprint is slightly bigger and has a more open layout than Knoch Park. Potential off-site parking options also appear to be larger and closer to the event space than the parking situation in Naperville, he said.

Romeoville leaders said Wednesday they are beginning discussions after being notified the village is the Exchange Club's top pick. Officials plan to meet with stakeholders and are hopeful they will reach an agreement.

"We are honored that they have chosen Romeoville for this premier summer event," Mayor John Noak said in a news release. "We need to make sure that, first and foremost, this is a good fit for our community and their organization. There are still topics to negotiate in order to make sure that the concerns of the residents are addressed during this final process."

The event will not replace Romeoville's annual RomeoFest, a four-day celebration held in the same area as the potential Ribfest site.

Though not a city-run event, Ribfest always has had a close relationship with Naperville and its businesses, especially those in the downtown area, Grimes said. The potential for a similar alliance isn't as obvious in Romeoville, he said, but he's hopeful some nearby establishments could benefit from having the event in town.


Despite some underlying concerns about Ribfest's success after the move, Grimes says he's confident it will continue to draw large crowds and potentially even attract new partnerships. Longtime sponsors have expressed support for moving to Romeoville, he said, with many indicating they're tied "more to the event and cause than they are to a geography."

"A lot of the things we have done are not necessarily related directly to our site in Naperville," he said. "We're not moving that far away, and everything else is staying the same."

The first Ribfest was held in 1988 at Rotary Hill along the Naperville Riverwalk but was moved to Knoch Park the following year to take advantage of the larger space. It has since grown into one of the suburbs' biggest and most popular festivals, featuring traveling rib vendors, musical entertainment, business booths and a carnival.

To date, the event has raised more than $17.5 million for roughly 50 charities, organizers said.

"Our goal for this summer is twofold: host an incredible Ribfest 2019, and secure a new home for Ribfest 2020 and beyond, so we can continue funding worthy agencies," Dunham said in a written statement. "The discussions with the village of Romeoville are the next logical step."

Ribfest 2019 is scheduled for July 3-6. Headliners include Billy Idol on Wednesday, Flo Rida and a fireworks display Thursday and Brantley Gilbert on Friday. A headliner for Saturday is expected to be announced soon.

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