Naperville's Last Fling plans return to local focus
The vision for the Last Fling festival of the future in Naperville is to spend less and give more.
Organizers with the Naperville Jaycees laid out the results of a two-year analysis of the long-running event and explained the ways they want it to change, as they made a plea to the city council last week for more city funding.
Although their request for a higher contribution to offset the cost of police and fire services was denied, the city is giving the club $171,000 of the $189,979 members sought.
Three council members voiced support for paying the whole amount, saying now is a critical time to ensure the Last Fling remains as a Labor Day weekend tradition in Naperville, where it started in 1966.
The discussion came less than two months after organizers with the Exchange Club of Naperville announced their signature event -- Ribfest -- will need to find a new home for 2020 and beyond because of planned construction at Knoch Park, the 31-year-old festival's home for the past 30 years. Organizers are analyzing 22 options for the festival's future, but the majority involve moving outside of Naperville.
"I strongly believe that these summer festivals have had a huge role in building the Naperville brand, celebrating the not-for-profit community," council member Kevin Coyne said about the Last Fling and Ribfest. "I'm a strong believer that particularly now at this time, with Ribfest being left up in the air, that the Last Fling needs to be protected."
Jaycees President Marissa Barfuss said the club aims to protect the 53-year-old festival by ensuring it remains affordable -- both to plan and to attend. Organizers also want the Fling to follow its "true intention and heart" of donating to Naperville-area nonprofit organizations.
"The Last Fling we believe is really, truly Naperville's festival," Barfuss said. "It's a community event focused on the community, existing for the community, and any money we raise goes right back to the community. We want to give it all away."
Changes in the works since the Jaycees completed the festival analysis will keep its focus on the local as far as entertainment.
The mostly free-admission event is known for its Labor Day parade, quirky games, contests and races, a carnival, a large family fun area and two stages, one of them offering performances for free. The club makes money from sponsorships and ticket sales to Rotary Hill, where it hosts larger concerts with national acts, including recently Lit, Alien Ant Farm, Lucky Boys Confusion, Barenaked Ladies and Goo Goo Dolls.
"We're reducing our entertainment budget, focusing on more affordable and popular local musical acts and reshaping our music venue on Rotary Hill," Barfuss said. "We want to ensure that we aren't building a very expensive, temporary venue for over 1,000 people -- when we really will have it be 500 or so on a perfect night."
It seems, with their end-of-summer event, the Jaycees decided less is more.
"Bigger isn't always better," Barfuss said. "And more expensive isn't always better, either."
Although the council did not adjust allocations from the Special Events and Cultural Amenities Fund to give a boost to this year's Fling, several members said they value the event and have confidence in the Jaycees to keep it going strong. The Fling this year is set for Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.
"It's a free event for families in our community. It is part of our traditions and history. And they've done a great job obviously supporting the social services, and the money goes back into the community," Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico said. "I agree we need to support them."