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Stillwater City Council Suspends Lumberjack Days, Fourth of July Fireworks Amid Financial Investigation

With a very limited discussion, the Council unanimously decided Tuesday night to suspend the contracts for Lumberjack Days and the Fourth of July fireworks until a criminal investigation is complete. The vote leaves the future of Stillwater’s two largest

The Stillwater City Council’s discussion Tuesday night was a dud.

With a very limited discussion, the Council unanimously decided to suspend the contracts for and the until a criminal investigation is complete.

The vote leaves the future of Stillwater’s two largest summer festivals and the in question.

It also lets the city off the hook for a $40,000 fireworks payment that was due to be made to the Lumberjack Days Festival Association by the end of the year.

Stillwater City Attorney Dave Magnuson discouraged any further discussion about the future of the events until the .

“Without all the information it is kind of like sailing in unchartered waters,” Magnuson said. “And if you do that, you run the chance of running aground.”

Police have forwarded part of their investigation to the Washington County Attorney for review. No charges have been filed.

The future of the events will be discussed in an open forum once the investigation is complete, Magnuson said.

In addition to the pending criminal investigation, city records show that St. Croix Events currently owes the city of Stillwater $7,542 for public safety services provided during the Stillwater Marathon in 2010 and 2011.

The production company also owes the city another $20,000 for police and fire services for last year’s Lumberjack Days Festival, which is due on Dec. 31; and 35 percent of all gate receipts from last year's event.

“There is a number of questions surrounding the finances of the festival and this is just a way of standing down until the county attorney has time to go through his process,” Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki said after the meeting. “This allows us to back away a little bit and let the legal process play its course.”

Several residents who showed up for the “fireworks” Tuesday night expressed disappointment that there wasn’t more discussion about the festival.

One resident, Brent Johnson, told the Pioneer Press he “thinks the city is getting played.”

Jeff Johnson, who lives in the South Hill neighborhood, said Lumberjack Days has simply gotten out of hand.

“It’s not for the local community anymore,” Johnson said. “It’s about bigger bands, bigger advertisements to people throughout the greater Twin Cities—and all of it has been for financial gain without regard for the community.

“Civic organizations have come down to help Eckberg out for a donation, and he hasn’t made good on it,” Johnson continued. “Historically, he’s well known for those kind of shenanigans. His track record is long. How does the city of Stillwater not check into it a little bit more, take a prepayment or an escrow up front? They have a contract that doesn’t even have any payment due dates in it. It’s ridiculous.”

As a taxpayer in an economic time of budget cuts, Johnson said, the city is throwing money at something many of residents don’t want in the first place.

“It’s kind of a double-poke,” he said. “We’re cutting back on parks and the library to save a few thousand dollars and then we have $40,000 going out the window on the other side.”

Debbie Preuss December 21, 2011 at 03:30 PM
Doesn't hurt my feelings any if Lumberjack Days doesn't occur especially in the capacity it has in the last several years. It use to be so much fun to go downtown and see local residents, local businesses, local bands, bingo in the park, kids games, etc. It should have never been allowed to expand into what it has. You wouldn't be dealing with this situation right now if it hadn't. This event needs to go back to what it was 10-15 years ago. You might even go downtown then and actually see someone who lives in Stillwater!!!
Pete December 21, 2011 at 04:09 PM
I agree with Debbie LJD used to be great-a nice event that allowed people of the community to meet. Now if some group would grab the batton and carrt it back to a fews years back...
Ann December 21, 2011 at 07:23 PM
I agree with Debbie too, and Pete. If this was supposed to be a local event, why did it not stay that way. Sounds like most people would have preferred that.
Elise December 21, 2011 at 11:29 PM
I think of the businesses downtown and how much they profit during Lumberjack Days. I can suffer through 4 days of crowds in town if it means the restaurants and bars downtown make enough money in those 4 days to remain open throughout the rest of the year. Economic times are tough and Lumberjack Days can make them a lot of money. Besides, it is still fun to go downtown for the big bands and fireworks. If the event was rolled back to the way it was 10-15 years ago, would those businesses make as much money as they do now? We have plenty of community events that are mainly Stillwater residents throughout the year. We have Summer Tuesdays, Stillwater Harvest Fest, Christmas Events put on by the Main St. businesses, etc... There is no lack of community events and ways to get involved if you are really interested in participating.
Pete December 28, 2011 at 12:58 PM
Elise, The businesses downtown suffer sales loss during LJD. How many 20 year olds or 45 year old wanna bee young agains are shopping in the retail stores downtown. Ask any retailer downtown-they will tell you LJD is a negative for their business. Talk to any bar owner-he will report high sales. What part of city near lock down, vomit and fighting do you like? Is it worth the extra business the bars get? While I dont know the balance sheets of these places (perhaps you do?), I doubt that having a bar running at %100 vs the typical %75 capacity. Do the math-even if typical operating capacity is at %50-do you actually believe that have twice the number of customers for four days actually keeps them afloat for all of the next full year.

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