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Taste Of St. Louis Is Second Festival To Leave Downtown In A Week

(via Flickr/pasa47)
Crowds at the 2013 Taste of St. Louis. The festival announced on March 3 that it is moving to Chesterfield.

Updated at 9:50 a.m. Tuesday to correct a typo.

For the second time in one week, a major festival has unveiled plans to move from downtown St. Louis to Chesterfield.

Taste of St. Louis announced today that it will relocate to Central Park and the Chesterfield amphitheater. This follows the news from last Monday that Bluesweek St. Louis is moving to the same location. Bluesweek organizer Mike Kociela told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that financial considerations were the primary reason for moving Bluesweek. Kociela is also the co-director of Taste of St. Louis.

The  Taste's other co-director, K. Sonderegger, said there was no financial need for the event to move from Soldiers' Memorial, where it's been for the past nine years. But she says the Chesterfield location allows the Taste of St. Louis to have a more regional impact.

"Restaurants that might be in the Chesterfield area or the west county area, there's going to be a little bit more of an opportunity for them to draw from the patrons that might be at the event," she said.

Additionally, Sonderegger said, the amphitheater opens up the possibility that a major TV personality will film a show at the Taste of St. Louis. She said organizers are talking with Bravo, the Cooking Channel and the Food Network about bringing some of their stars to the event.

"We wanted to focus a little more on food, and the Chesterfield amphitheater gives us a really great venue to do that," Sonderegger said.

2014 03 03 Budweiser Taste of St Louis Announcement Final

Two big departures from St. Louis

The announcement from Kociela that Bluesweek would be leaving for Chesterfield came the same week that the St. Louis Board of Aldermen introduced legislation that would reserve Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends over the next 10 years for a yet-unnamed music festival produced by ICM Partners, which represents artists like Beyonce and Elvis Costello.  The legislation will be heard in the Convention, Tourism, Arts and Humanities committee this Thursday. 

Bluesweek is traditionally held on Memorial Day weekend. Kociela did not return multiple requests for comment on whether the pending legislation drove his decision to relocate the music festival to Chesterfield. Sonderegger, with Taste of St. Louis, could not say whether the Bluesweek and Taste of St. Louis moves were connected.

Libbey Tucker, economic development director for the city of Chesterfield, said neither the Taste nor Bluesweek is receiving any incentives from the city to move. But she said because the event will generate a lot of publicity for Chesterfield, both festivals are not paying to rent the facilities at Central Park, which would normally cost about $3,000 per festival. Entertainment St. Louis, Kociela's production company, produced the first two seasons of concerts at Chesterfield's new amphitheater.

Local reaction

The chief operating officer of the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis, Melissa Kelley, said the organization was aware that both Bluesweek and Taste of St. Louis were considering a move.

"Obviously, they are looking for a different audience, but the good news is that the region will still benefit from these two events," she said. "I do think they will be very different events, so it remains to be seen what the audience will be like and what their attendance will be like. But I hope it's as good as it was when it was down here, and I'm glad that the region will still benefit from the events."

Kelley denied the two departures send a negative message to others who might want to stage festivals downtown.

"These are two very big festivals that are leaving, I agree, but we've also drawn in other things from different neighborhoods," she said. "The gay pride parade was downtown for the first time ever last year, and will be coming back this year. The Annie Malone parade is now downtown."

The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission declined to make anyone available for an interview, but spokeswoman Donna Andrews said in a statement that "as long as the event is regional and draws from the St. Louis area and beyond, it's still a win for the region, and we look forward to promoting it."

Maggie Crane, a spokeswoman for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, said those who are concerned about the departures need to look at the numbers. In 2009, she said, the city issued permits for 60 "sizable" events that required street closures. By 2013, that number was up to 230 and is expected to grow next year.

"It's not an us versus them," she said. "They're a for-profit festival. If it works better for them in Chesterfield, go ahead."

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Share your insight through the Public Insight Network: Will you go to 'Taste' or Bluesweek now that they've moved to Chesterfield?

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.