The Oktoberfest event has again landed on Soulard, another commercial exploitation of this historic district by private interests. Striving mightily to pretend that it is a neighborhood event, instead of a private, money-making activity, Oktoberfest further degrades the quality of residential life, distracting attention from growth and improvement, focusing on a party.
At the Soulard Special Business District forum, held on Sept. 30, a question was raised regarding security during Oktoberfest. It was interesting to listen to Alderwoman Phyllis Young during the ensuing discussion. She assured those attending that the responsible organization - Soulard Oktoberfest Benevolent Association - had assumed full responsibility for security.
She also said that the so-called festival will no longer be held in Soulard after this year. "They have promised this is the last year," she said, ignoring the fact that the organizers promised the same thing last year. She could have made the point that the organizers will say (and promise) anything to continue the event in Soulard.
Finally, she added that Oktoberfest was growing in popularity, and any who "did not like this event in their neighborhood should make their voices heard." She neglected to say to whom comments should be directed. Perhaps Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny?
St. Louis Post-Dispatch readers will recall that Alderwoman Young seems not to be a fan of Oktoberfest, possibly because she doesn’t want another over-the-top commercial event added to her legacy. She has good cause for embarrassment.
The Soulard Mardi Gras has grown to its present state of disorder as a public drunk during her reign as alderwoman. It gets a free pass from the City of St. Louis because our wise City Fathers are so desperate for revenue, no matter what the cost to a city neighborhood, no matter how disgraceful the event.
SMG has changed the tone of the entire neighborhood, transforming the culture from neighborhood growth and improvement to "let’s have a party." Thus, it gets a free pass from the Soulard Restoration Group, an organization now devoted to drinking. Their glib motto is: "If you don’t like Soulard Mardi Gras, then it’s time to move." And many otherwise contributing people have done this.
Anyway, after some skirmishing in the pages of the Post-Dispatch, Alderwoman Young wrote a letter - on Board of Aldermen stationary - on May 30, 2009 to Mr. Victor Wendl, President, Soulard Oktoberfest Benevolent Association, 7321 S. Lindbergh, Suite 208, St. Louis, MO 63125.
The letter pretty well catalogues the impact of Oktoberfest and reads as follows:
"I have reviewed the plan of action that you have submitted for curtailing the problems that have arisen in the past from the Oktoberfest. While I can see that you have made some effort I still have concerns. I’ll address the issues as you presented them.
"ISSUE 1: PUBLIC URINATION. Additional porta-potties in the area will be appreciated if they are used by your visitors. Will the ‘stationary officers’ patrol and issue tickets?
"ISSUE 2: PERSONAL PROPERTY DAMAGE. That might help; however, again what will the patrols do to curb this behavior? Will they issue tickets for damage?
"ISSUE 3: DAMAGE TO VEGETATION IN SOULARD MARKET PARK. Fencing the flower beds would be appreciated.
"ISSUE 4: DAMAGE TO PARK GROUNDS. That’s an item to take up with the Parks Director.
"ISSUE 5: IMPACT ON MARKET PARKING. Have you discussed this with the Market’s Merchant’s Association? In my discussions with them it was felt that the elderly and handicapped as well as those people who shop for large families will not come to the Market due to the inconvenience or inability to deal with large quantities of food on a shuttle bus. This is not an acceptable approach for resolving the Market’s issue.
"ISSUE 6: IMPACT ON MARKET SALES AND TRAFFIC. There has been no growth shown in the number of younger shoppers at the Market after either Mardi Gras or Oktoberfest. While you moved your date to the second week of October the checks for those dependent on Social Security generally arrive on the 5th of the month. Therefore, the date you have chosen is also the one that is generally the busiest of the month for the Market.
"You need to work more closely with the merchants at Soulard Market to limit the damage to their revenues. In effect your event causes them to lose a week’s revenues. It would be similar to closing a Soulard bar for a week. Keep that in mind as you plan your event.
"I’m told that the 50 cent coupons that were issued last year to offset the decrease in sales were never funded by your organization. Therefore, I am skeptical that the vendors would get reimbursed if people from food pantries came in with Soulard Oktoberfest Dollars. To show good faith to the Market Merchants a check with an agreed upon amount should be provided to the Merchants Association for deposit in an account two weeks prior to Oktoberfest to insure that the program would be funded.
"ISSUE 7: JULIA STREET VENDOR PARKING PROBLEMS. Again this is an issue to take up with the Park Director.
"ISSUE 8: EXCESSIVE DRUNKENNESS. I applaud the mandating of TIPS training for nonprofit organizations selling alcohol at Oktoberfest. I request that ID’s be checked with every sale. You’ll make the older folks feel young and be certain that everyone is of age to drink. In addition the state and local Excise officers should be asked to be at the event ticketing underage drinkers.
"ISSUE 9: GROWTH OF THE FESTIVAL TO UNMANAGEABLE ATTENDANCE. I agree that an entrance fee will help the event. I’m told that there was a $10 fee previously so I don’t understand the $5 one now proposed. You should also provide flexibility to hire additional security if the crowd builds.
"ISSUE 10: USE OF ALTERNATIVE LOCATIONS OR DISBURSE ACTIVITIES. (1) I have no information about why Strassenfest failed downtown; however, the split that brought Oktoberfest to Soulard was likely a part of it along with the fact that it occurred in the hottest part of our St. Louis summers. (2) If Oktoberfest is a German Cultural festival why not hold it at the German Cultural Center on S. Jefferson and build on the decision to locate that facility in that location. There is also a large parking lot adjacent to the St. Louis Gast Haus on Chouteau which could promote the event and the restaurant. (3) Alderman Ortmann has also agreed that your event could locate in Lyons Park in the shadow of the brewery.
"ISSUE 11: BOISTEROUS PEOPLE WHO BOTHERED RESIDENTS. While you can post on the website and throughout the neighborhood, unless there is some penalty imposed by the officers you hire there is no enforcement for this problem. What specific measures are you taking to insure the residents that your participants will be responsible and respectful?
"ISSUE 12: SHORTEN THE FESTIVAL HOURS AND/OR DAYS.
"ISSUE 13: CLOSING OF LAFAYETTE STREET NO EARLIER THAN NOON ON FRIDAY. These are the Director of Streets requirements. You may close 8th St on Thursday morning to construct the stage as was done last year, however, Lafayette Street will be available on Friday at noon. You may use the parking lanes and sidewalks for prep and staging provided that you leave the driving lanes open. You’ll need permits for all of this.
"I appreciate the thoughts and efforts of the group to meet the concerns expressed; however, I believe that more work is needed to protect both the adjacent neighbors and the Soulard Market Merchants. I will await you ideas.
"Sincerely, Phyllis Young, Alderwoman, 7th Ward"
Copies were sent to Alderman Ken Ortmann, Gary Bess, Todd Waeltermann, Jim Price, Johnny Daus, Joannie Thomas and Ann Chance.
Wow, that is some letter. These issues raise the obvious question: why let private interests - and private wallets - wag the dog and on the public dime, too?
An analysis of the issues reveals that Oktoberfest is nothing more than a microcosm of the Soulard Mardi Gras, and both events offer insights into the leadership skills - the degree of incompetence and venality - of those who run the neighborhood and the City of St. Louis. So if you don’t like what you see, well, then, it is time to move, as the neighborhood party people would say.