Sunsplash Festival Faces Resident Storm

The founders of the Burning Man Festival were on to something when they chose the middle of a desert in Nevada to host their annual event. Standing on the pavilion where the Midwest Sunsplash Festival will be held Aug. 7-8, the Sister Bay Parks committee fielded concerns from local residents and business owners about the event.

“The other business people will tell you, what we know from our clientele, that’s the worst possible time you could have it,” said Rob Zoschke, general manager for The Yacht Club at Sister Bay.

The public pitched concerns regarding the already busy weekend, alcohol consumption, camping, and the duration of the festival.

“I don’t think they can handle the capacity and I think it’s going to be a pretty rough weekend for the people that are actually staying here or living here,” said Judith Stevenson, resident at the Yacht Club, after the meeting. Stevenson’s residence stands immediately adjacent to Waterfront Park, which will host a portion of the music during the festival.

With the village extending the music to midnight, three hours past the listed music shutdown for the park, Stevenson and other residents are not only worried about noise, but also alcohol consumption.

“The best thing you guys could do is curtail the Saturday night music here to the normal park closure time,” said Zoschke.

“You established this music ’til midnight on Saturday night and then you come out and say the main driver of revenue for the village is going to be alcohol sales…you’re going to be pumping these kids full of alcohol until midnight and then you’re going to unleash them on the village.”

Zoschke referred to the May 19 village board meeting where Board Member John Clove questioned other board members as to how the village would be getting revenue from the festival. The board responded that alcohol sales would be the main driver for revenue.

This concern was amplified by hotel and resort representatives, who are worried about the volume of people in the village at a time when their rooms are already filled.

Sister Bay Village Administrator Zeke Jackson is an appointee on the Tourism Zone Commission, tasked with collecting room tax from municipal lodging facilities. He explained that the commission identified two things to drive more lodging revenue in the county:  expanding the shoulder seasons before and after summer, and the concept of compression.

Compression allows hotels and resorts to raise room rates during high demand, often surrounding large events in the area.

“I want to make your property more valuable during the time that people want to actually be here in volume. So instead of charging $132 per night you’re charging $142 per night,” said Jackson.

When a hotel is near full occupancy, it can raise the rates on the last few rooms. But Sister Bay lodging operators stated that they are not near full occupancy. They are full.

“Compression only works when you’re not full. Compression is when you put it out to other places. You go down to Fish Creek, you go down to Egg Harbor,” said Peter Northard, general manager of Pheasant Park Resort. “If you’re full, you’re full.”

The Parks Committee responded that the same benefits are seen during Fall Fest in October when all lodging around Sister Bay is full.

“But you’re full because of Fall Fest. That’s the reason that you’re full. We’re full now without the festival, without Sunsplash. So to put a festival on top of a weekend that you’re always full anyways is not a good idea,” replied Northard.

The Sister Bay Advancement Association (SBAA) recommended the date to the village. The SBAA serves as business council to the village and as representative of all business owners in Sister Bay.

“The SBAA Board of Directors discussed the event and date, and agreed to hold Midwest Sunsplash Music Festival on the same day as the Door County Festival of Fine Arts, as we hope the two events will be complimentary and add to each other,” said Paige Funkhouser, SBAA coordinator. “As with any board, not everyone agrees on everything all of the time, which is why decisions are made democratically via a majority vote. This is the same process SBAA uses when planning any new event.”

Northard stated that the SBAA did not communicate to hotel operators when choosing the date.

To alleviate the limited amount of lodging, the festival will offer camping near the Sister Bay Sports Complex east of town. The amount of campsites provided will depend on the number of pre-sale tickets sold before the event.

Jackson stated that he anticipates roughly 2,000 people attending the festival, but the number could range anywhere from 200 to 2,500. There were no pre-sale tickets sold as of the June 3 meeting.