Wood Dale cancels its Prairie Fest for a second year in a row
Wood Dale is canceling its Prairie Fest for a second year in a row because of COVID-19.
City officials say the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has made scheduling and enacting safety precautions too difficult to host the festival this year.
Since it began in 2000, the annual four-day event in late July has drawn large crowds, with up to 20,000 people attending in 2019 for music, food, carnival rides and games, car shows and fireworks in Community Park.
But Prairie Fest was among the many suburban summer festivals called off last year as the pandemic spread and mitigation measures were enacted to protect residents.
That cancellation also caused a decline in tourism revenue because festival visitors didn't stay at local hotels, city officials said. Tourism revenue for the city's 2020 fiscal year, starting May 1, 2019, and ending April 30, 2020, was $343,127. The city is projecting $84,000 in tourism revenue for the 2021 fiscal year, which ends April 30.
The uncertainty surrounding the 2021 event also made it difficult to secure enough sponsors in time for the festival, said officials, adding that some vendors under contract with the city will be available next year.
"We'd love to have it, but committing to such a big event when you're unsure if you're going to even have it and limit the amount of people going is not practical," Mayor Nunzio Pulice said. "We just decided to let it go. It's far too late in the year and we don't know how good it's going to be in a few months."
Pulice said he hopes the city can plan smaller, one-night summer events that are more manageable, such as the Sounds of Summer Concert Series. He also said an event for Memorial Day is being planned, but such events and how they will be celebrated remain up in the air until COVID-19 cases drop and more vaccines are distributed.
Grant Paplauskas, the city's marketing and events planner, said the uncertainty makes it too unpredictable and risky to plan Prairie Fest.
"There just wasn't enough time to plan this out and to do it safely," Paplauskas said. "It's definitely unfortunate and a disappointment to not have Prairie Fest this year again, but it's definitely important to have safety in mind."
• Trey Arline is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.