The first three-day Stagecoach Days event this weekend was a blast for some but a flop for others, according to reader comments on InMaricopa.com’s Facebook page.
Among the litany of complaints, one cropped up repeatedly: the price of nearly everything – the wristbands, the carnival rides and the food – was too high.
“Way too expensive.” Meghan Reedy Pemberton said. “(I) paid $30 for my two girls to go on three rides each.”
Vendors griped the $150 cost to rent booth space – $150, or nonprofit groups could contribute volunteer hours or host an event in lieu of payment – was too high, while attendees complained about too few vendors.
Craft vendors could have a booth on Saturday for $75, but some thought even that was too expensive.
“I would have to sell (a lot) of product to break even and for many that is just not worth the risk,” Bethany Gatten, a craft vendor said.
Not all vendors were unhappy.
Helen Ford, who owns Helen’s Tri-Tip Steak, said the event was a success for her business.
“I ran out of food twice,” she said. “Unlike the Salsa Festival, you’re not competing with families spending their money somewhere else.”
Eventgoers also were concerned with a lack of shade at Pacana Park and the long distances between activities.
Cindy Dunn of Action Alliance, the organization hired by the city to put on the event, said every attraction and activity has a price tag attached and this year – unlike previous years – the city could not afford to pay as much for the event.
A key example, she said, was the bounce houses.
“In the past they were free because the city paid for them,” Dunn said, adding that 30-by-30 foot tents cost $800 and a dance floor costs $1,000.
Last year, the city spent $28,000 on the carnival, not including the cost of services such as traffic planning, permits, portable restrooms, parks, police and fire department staff time, and other services, said Action Alliance co-founder Will Dunn, Cindy Dunn's husband.
This year the city spent $22,000 to sponsor the event and $16,000 in related services, said city spokeswoman LaTricia Woods.
Action Alliance Network was tasked with finding private sponsors to make up for the lost funding.
Any leftover money from the event goes back into the Action Alliance’s fund for future events.
The Dunns both said they were not trying to re-create Stagecoach Days of the past, which were put on for a small town of a few thousand people.
This event was meant to reach out to a variety of people who live in a city of 45,000 people, Will Dunn said.
That was one reason the event was spread out over several days.
“We wanted more people to be able to attend,” he said. “The vendors loved it. They were happy they didn’t have to deal with 6,000 people all in one day like at the Salsa Festival.”
A number of community events, such as the Stop the Violence 5K Fun Run and 1-Mile Walk and the Mini Miss Maricopa Pageant were held over the course of Stagecoach Days.
Also, Dunn said, Action Alliance Network was only awarded the contract seven weeks prior to the event, a very short timeframe to plan an event of this size.
“To the people who came and the vendors it had no effect,” he said. “But it affected our staff.” Action Alliance Network has two full-time employees, three part-time employees and volunteers.
Mayor Christian Price said the city, already understaffed, is a partner in putting on Stagecoach Days but relies heavily on private sponsors to help make it a success.
“It’s a public-private partnership,” Price said. “The city can continue to provide some of its resources, the fire department, the police department, the park.”
Price said although Stagecoach Days “has value and is a great event,” funding is prioritized for projects that serve the residents over the long term, such as the State Route 347 grade separation project.
“Ultimately it’s determining where people place value,” Price said. “I think it’s always a balancing act with the city. The city is not in the business of party planning.”
Cindy Dunn said the quality of the event largely depends on the amount of community support it receives.
She said it’s a cycle. The more people show up, the more vendors will come.
Attendance also impacts what carnival rides are available.
The rides carnival companies decide to erect – another attendee issue was the lack of a Ferris wheel – is decided by how much it costs the company to run that ride.
Cindy Dunn said the company won’t erect a ride if doesn’t think it will sell enough tickets and wristbands to make up for the cost of operating it.
The option to buy a wristband for unlimited rides left some people disgruntled when they learned the bracelets were only valid for a few hours each day.
The wristbands could be purchased prior to the event for $15 on the Stagecoach Days website or for $30 the day of the carnival.
Last year, Brown, the carnival company, charged $30 for a pre-sold wristband and $35 for those bought at the carnival.
Cindy Dunn said Frazier’s, this year’s carnival company, established the price and time the wristbands were available.
She said 130 discount, pre-sale wristbands were sold and that Action Alliance Network offered refunds to those unhappy with the time limit but that no one asked for one.
Her husband said anyone who bought a wristband from him – either off the website or from him in person at the carnival – can request a refund.Responding to complaints there was not enough of a Western theme this year, Cindy Dunn said, “Last year we were told there was too much country Western.”
So this year, Wells Fargo sponsored stagecoach rides, Saturday night’s Rotary Club dance featured a country band and pony rides were available all weekend.
But for the event’s others days, Dunn said “we were really trying to address the diversity of the community.”
“The city puts on a lot of events for young families,” she said. “This is the one event a year that we can offer a teen experience.”
According to statistics provided by the Action Alliance Network, several community events increased in attendance.
The street dance, which had only 50 attendees last year had more than 200 this year. The Stop the Violence 5K Fun Run and 1-Mile Walk also went from 50 participants to approximately 200.
See a sampling of the more than 75 Facebook comments on Stagecoach Days on Page 2 of the November InMaricopa News in mailboxes next week.