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Willmar council gives initial support for September music festival; use agreement yet to be approved

A country music festival may take place on Robbins Island in September if a use agreement is finalized between the City of Willmar and festival promoter Steve Peppin. The Willmar City Council passed a motion of support Monday and will later consider the use agreement.

Entrance sign and flagpole surrounded by landscaping at Robbins Island Regional Park in Willmar, Minnesota.
The city of Willmar will consider a use agreement with promoter Steve Peppin for a country music festival in September at Robbins Island Regional Park. The City Council passed a motion in support and directed city staff to draft the agreement.
Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo
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WILLMAR — A Willmar businessman and promoter is seeking city approval to hold a new country music festival at Robbins Island on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.

Steve Peppin and his colleague Mike Bowman presented their plans for Pep Fest 2022 to the Willmar City Council on Monday, asking for the council’s permission and support to host the festival at the Willmar park.

After an extensive question-and-answer session and discussion, the council approved a motion supporting the festival, pending approval of a use agreement between the city and Peppin, and directing staff to begin working on that agreement.

Peppin and Bowman will be responsible for all the planning and logistics, along with a large group of volunteers through Peppin’s company Studio 38, which is located on Lakeland Drive in Willmar. Studio 38 will also be contracting with outside professional services for sound stage and lighting, as well as security, to make sure the event “goes off without a hitch.”

Those attending the event will park at different locations throughout the city and be shuttled by bus in order to ease any traffic concerns, according to Peppin.

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No liquor will be served at the event, but there will be two beer tents. People will need wristbands and beer tickets to purchase beer.

In order to keep people who have not paid for tickets from being able to view the festival, Peppin plans to work with a fencing company to put up an 8-foot fence with only one access point for entrance to the festival.

Once people leave the festival, there will be no re-entry in order to create a controlled, safe atmosphere, according to Bowman.

Crowd control is very important to Bowman and Peppin. “Everybody’s safety is our number one priority,” Peppin said.

Noting she helped coordinate the former Sonshine Festival in Willmar for many years, Councilor Julie Asmus, a former Willmar Police Department sergeant, shared her concerns with traffic control: “I’m just seeing a lot of clog on that south side.”

Peppin said he would work with the Police Department once the council has given the green light for the event. “I don’t have all the answers yet,” he said.

Bowman noted they would have emails for all attendees due to selling tickets only through Eventbrite, and an email will be sent to attendees explaining the parking situation.

Councilor Michael O’Brien shared concerns regarding boaters on the lake parking near the beach to watch the festival from their boats or people trying to get into the festival through the beach.

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It was noted that water is public and cannot be controlled, but fencing could be put up on that end of the festival, as well, to prevent entrance from the beach.

Councilor Vicki Davis was concerned about people who may need to exit quickly with the fencing all the way around and only one exit point. Peppin said he was open to putting mesh fencing to allow for emergency openings with security guards posted at those locations.

Council Member Justin Ask wanted to know if an emergency management/risk analysis had been completed, and if not, how long it would take to complete.

City Administrator Leslie Valiant assured Ask that the fire and police chief can work together for an emergency plan and put one together fairly quickly.

Ask was also concerned about the fees being charged by the city — totaling an estimated $12,330 — asking if they were unprecedented or based on things that have happened in the past. Public Works Director Gary Manzer assured Ask the fees were based on the manpower needed and any extra equipment that might need to be rented, adding that the city's experience with the Rockin' Robbins summer concert series helped staff determine estimated costs.

Councilor Andrew Plowman praised Peppin and Bowman for all the planning that has gone into the event.

“It makes me happy to see such a well thought out plan even this early in the process, because I think that’s the beginning point of doing it right, doing it safe,” he said, noting all the work Peppin and Bowman have done already with the city to make this event a possibility. “I appreciate the level of detail and foresight to address these issues with the city and various city departments regarding insurance, liability, safety, emergency protocol, stuff like that.”

After council members had their questions answered, Mayor Marv Calvin voiced his concerns with the council giving approval for the event with so many open-ended questions. He also thought the city should look at creating a special events ordinance. He asked Peppin to wait until the next council meeting in three weeks for approval of the event in order to be able to address some of the concerns.

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“There is still a lease agreement that has to be drawn up, so all these particulars will be in the lease agreement,” Valiant commented. “That would be presented to the council (for approval) at a later date.”

“We have a lot of things locked in. I think a lot of these things are things we can figure out after we get the green light from you guys,” Peppin told the mayor and council. “This is a $100,000 event — that’s the budget. The whole thing has been paid for. So, we don’t have to make the money back. There’s two ways to do business. You can hope that you are going to make money and then pay stuff off or you can pay it and then rock it. Like I said, we don’t care if we break even, we just want to be successful. We can’t be successful without promotion.”

Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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