You can picture it: wind-swept smoke billows off grills and deep fryers in a gaggle of food trucks. A woman paints a flower on a young girl’s cheek, while a man in costume bends balloons to look like a dog or a trumpet – your choice. You’ve wiped mini-donut sugar on your right pantleg for lack of a napkin, and the thick air clings to your skin like a wet cotton shirt. You’re at your local suburban summer festival. If you’re in Brooklyn Park, that festival may be downsized next year.
Brooklyn Park’s summer festival, Tater Daze, began in 1964 as a celebration of the city’s past life as one of the country’s largest potato growing regions. It is traditionally hosted for three to four days in June, typically the second weekend.
With attendance down and volunteers dwindling, the city is considering downsizing the festival and replacing some aspects of it with shorter, smaller-scale events. If the concept moves forward, the city may retain the parade and fireworks and do away with the rest of the festival.
City staff members raised the issue at the Brooklyn Park City Council’s Oct. 7 work session.
The event has been hosted at many venues throughout the city, and as recently as 2017 it was hosted at Noble Sports Park. It was moved to the Community Activity Center in 2018 and returned there this summer.
The festival once included a carnival, which was phased out following sporadic violence in 2015 and 2016. The carnival was replaced with inflatable attractions in 2017.
While the Tater Daze Volunteer Committee used to be very strong, it has seen a decrease in participation in recent years, Recreation Supervisor Kelly Mertes said. Long-time members have left, and remaining members have been reluctant to take on leadership roles, she said.
City staff members have spent increasing amounts of time planning and coordinating the festival, Mertes said.
This trend away from longer festivals is not unique to Brooklyn Park, as cities both regionally and nationally are moving away from multi-day festivals for budgetary reasons and due to a lack of volunteer participation, Mertes said.
In its place, shorter events such as the city’s Movies in the Park, Kick-Off to National Night Out or food truck-centeric events could become more frequent. A day celebrating the city’s diversity has also been proposed.
“I like the idea of switching it up,” Mayor Jeff Lunde said. “One of the root causes of why we moved the event and why every city you mentioned tonight about doing something different, all have the same background … is that youth have started to show up at these events and started to do what they call ‘urban challenges,’ and where they do fights, all this stuff is pre-planned out. They get on Facebook all week, they taunt, they schedule it out. I know the community is very aware of this.”
Lunde added that he liked the idea of smaller events throughout the year and that the city should incorporate the city’s restaurants in food truck events.
“People often complain to me that we don’t have any marching bands in our parade,” said Councilmember Lisa Jacobson. She said that the city should try to get community organizations more involved and ask them to plan and pay for aspects of the festival.
“If our parade is what it was this year, quite honestly, with how many complaints I heard, we might as well not do it,” Jacobson said.
Councilmember Terry Parks also said the parade was lacking this year and noted his excitement about the potential changes.
Councilmember Susan Pha said she would be supportive of having two separate events, one being Tater Daze and one being something like a diversity day, where different cultural groups can come together and celebrate. She also supported the concept of smaller, shorter events.
Councilmember Tonja West-Hafner said the city should consider changing the timing of the Tater Daze events to allow for larger attendance. The city has many cultures worth celebrating, she said.
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