Could a downsized Ribfest stay in Naperville? Officials are pushing for it.

  • Over its 31 years, Ribfest in Naperville has grown in size and scope, becoming a major concert venue for performers such as Pitbull, seen here on the Ribfest stage in July 2018. Naperville city officials now are asking organizers to consider changing the scale of the festival so it can remain in Naperville, even after its site in Knoch Park becomes unavailable in 2020.

    Over its 31 years, Ribfest in Naperville has grown in size and scope, becoming a major concert venue for performers such as Pitbull, seen here on the Ribfest stage in July 2018. Naperville city officials now are asking organizers to consider changing the scale of the festival so it can remain in Naperville, even after its site in Knoch Park becomes unavailable in 2020. Daily Herald file photo July 2018

 
 
Updated 1/31/2019 9:07 PM

Ribfest's future in Naperville has been in question since organizers with the city's Exchange Club announced the celebration needs a new site outside Knoch Park for 2020 and beyond.

Club leaders initially said staying in Naperville is unlikely because the only other site the park district can offer is Rotary Hill along the downtown Riverwalk, and that would be too small.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But Mayor Steve Chirico said he met with club leaders this week to ask if the festival can be downsized to fit somewhere in the city, such as Rotary Hill, Naper Settlement or a combination of the two.

"It's certainly intriguing and we are looking at it," said Mary Howenstine, Exchange Club administrator. "We don't have anything to report on it."

The club is considering 22 options for its 2020 venue after the park district informed it last summer that Knoch Park no longer would be available because of renovations.

Reorganizing or downsizing to stay in Naperville is one of those options, Howenstine said. Also under consideration is moving to the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton or open spaces in Bolingbrook, Oswego or Romeoville, among other sites.

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The list has grown from a few places identified in mid-December, when the club announced its need for a new space, to about 10 in early January and now 22.

A group of about seven club members, led by Denise Meyer, chairwoman of Ribfest 2021, is dividing the work of researching the possibilities to choose the best one, Howenstine said.

"We've been doing a deep dive starting about three weeks ago," she said Wednesday. "We're hoping to skinny that down very quickly."

Club leaders originally said they hoped to announce by spring where Ribfest 2020 will be held, long before their "Last Nights at Knoch" takes place with this year's festival July 3-6. But Howenstine said the goal now is to have a site chosen in time to publicize it during the event.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ribfest needs to move because the park district plans renovations and field work at Knoch Park, a major recreation space in the center of the city at 724 S. West St. After this summer's Ribfest concludes, construction will begin to relocate and upgrade a softball field for Naperville Central High School.

In summer 2020, Executive Director Ray McGury has said the park could see further additions, such as a synthetic turf field, pickleball courts, extended walking trails and fitness stations.

The softball field has received final approval, but plans for the rest of the features remain in the works, McGury said.

Since Ribfest began in 1988 at Rotary Hill, it has raised more than $16 million for roughly 50 charities that work to end child abuse and domestic violence, and organizers say it always has been a fundraiser at heart.

But Chirico said the festival has grown to be something it wasn't at the start: a major concert venue.

Last year's performers included Pitbull and Steven Tyler & the Loving Mary Band. Over the years, headliners have included Toby Keith, The B-52s, 3 Doors Down, Sheryl Crow, Gin Blossoms and other major performers with hits in rock and country.

Chirico has said he is confident Naperville can establish a new Fourth of July weekend tradition if Ribfest chooses to keep its large-scale setup and move elsewhere. But he wants the club to explore staying in a Naperville public space first, staying true to the roots it has established as the city's population has grown.

"We'd certainly want to talk to them about it," he said.

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