Asparagus Festival may leave Downtown Stockton next year

This weekend, over 100,000 people will fill Downtown Stockton to take part in the city’s most cherished tradition: The Asparagus Festival. Patrons will enjoy live bands, various activities, plenty of spirits, and, of course, copious amounts of asparagus prepared in an assortment of ways. Sadly, this may be the last time the festival will be held in downtown as officials are considering a move to the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds.

Three separate sources have confirmed with SCL that festival officials may move the event from Downtown Stockton to the fairgrounds starting in 2014. Moreover, Asparagus Festival officials acknowledged on their Facebook page that no decision had been made on whether or not the festival will remain at its current location.

2013 may be the last year that the Asparagus Festival is held downtown as officials are considering a move to the county fairgrounds

2013 may be the last year that the Asparagus Festival is held downtown as officials are considering a move to the county fairgrounds

While I am sure there are legitimate reasons why a move is being considered, I think this is a huge mistake: a move away from the waterfront to the fairgrounds will be disastrous for both the Asparagus Festival and Stockton as a whole.

The Asparagus Festival is by far the largest, most visible event in Stockton, drawing people from all over the region who otherwise would have little exposure to our city outside of negative news stories. Given the festival’s popularity, it is imperative that visitor’s experience the best of what Stockton has to offer. Ever since the move from Oak Grove to the waterfront, the event has become more than just a celebration of a vegetable; the Asparagus Festival is a showcase for the city, demonstrating Stockton’s uniqueness and potential.

Needless to say, it’s hard to showcase the best of Stockton at the county fairgrounds.

While the fairgrounds may make a bit more sense logistically, offering more space for festival events and parking, there is nothing particularly unique that the fairgrounds can provide to the Asparagus Festival. Hosting the festival along the water distinguishes it from all other festivals in the region. Every county has fairgrounds, few cities boast a waterfront.

I am sure that Asparagus Festival officials face legitimate concerns over continuing to host the event at the waterfront. However, it is my personal opinion that the benefits of moving to the fairgrounds are vastly outweighed by the benefits of remaining downtown. For one, even though downtown lacks the amount of parking available at the fairgrounds, the attendance still regularly tops 100,000. In fact, the lack of parking probably encourages many to carpool or take public transportation, potentially cutting down on drunk driving in the process.

Additionally, moving to the fairgrounds effectively kills the busiest weekend of the year for the city’s much ballyhooed marina. To me, this is what makes the Asparagus Festival unique as there are few food-themed festivals accessible by boat. Also, by moving away from the waterfront, there are no paddleboats, no delta river cruises, and no delta sunsets.

Other activities would be stymied as well, such as the Spear-It Run events. Running along the scenic waterfront is certainly more inviting than a run around the fairground. Even if the race remained downtown, the allure would be diminished by the absence of the festival.

Instead of moving the event entirely, there should be a discussion about how to improve the festival at its current location, as I am sure there is room for improvement. For example, the ballpark and arena could be leveraged to expand the festival’s footprint. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think these venues are incorporated at all in the festivities, which provides a huge opportunity to expand the festival’s size (given that the Ports and Thunder can agree to block off those few days). For starters, the headlining concerts can be held at the ballpark, which can accommodate around 5,000. It’s been done before, such as when John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson performed there in 2009. This would free up space at Weber Point for other activities or entertainment options. The Arena floor could be used for exhibition space as well. Moreover, there is a whole open dirt lot in front of the arena facing the water that is slated for development one day. Until that day actually arrives, those few acres of dirt could provide even more space.

The bottom line is that downtown is the best location for the Asparagus Festival, hands down. The city’s most visible event deserves to be held at its most distinctive location. Since the move from Oak Grove, attendance has regularly topped 100,000, save for a few years where the weather did not cooperate. If the event relocates to the fairgrounds, boaters would not be interested, and Stocktonians who visit the site for the county fair may not be inclined to visit the fairgrounds again for the Asparagus Festival. I imagine that there is some concern over the cost of holding the festival downtown. If this is the case, I hope which ever city department has jurisdiction over this issue realizes the true costs and benefits of where the festival is held, not just dollar amounts.

For the good of all parties involved, the Asparagus Festival needs to remain downtown. I have inserted a poll into this post gauging how Stocktonians feel about this potential move, please partake!

**UPDATE** The Record is reporting that the city is asking for a larger share of the proceeds and that the festival has in turn developed a back up plan to move to the fairgrounds. Hopefully, both sides can come to an agreement, because if the festival moves, everyone loses.

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Categories: Community Commentary

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

16 Comments on “Asparagus Festival may leave Downtown Stockton next year”

  1. Ned
    April 24, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    David,

    I agree entirely with you. The festival is setting up now outside my office, and while there is some small disruption to my business, it is a small price to pay for the celebration downtown. This is the first I heard of a proposal to relocate the festival. I think it would be a big mistake. I am sure the community can address adequately whatever problems arise from a downtown location. And those problems are parking and lack of space for festival events? If they move the Asparagus Festival to the fairgrounds, there will be plenty of parking, plenty of space, and very, very few patrons.

  2. Mark Jackson
    April 24, 2013 at 11:31 am #

    Frankly I think Spanos Park off Eight Mile is the best location. It was very successful there!

  3. Kari
    April 24, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    When the festival moved from Oak Grove to Downtown Stockton, my family stopped attending for a number of years. The festival seems to have finally rebuilt its allure, and I believe has played a large part in rehabilitating the image of Downtown Stockton. I now attend the festival every year, in large part just to be supportive. If it was held at the County Fairgrounds, it seems to me festival organizers would have to face once again rehabilitating the festival’s image.

  4. April 24, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    When the festival moved from Oak Grove to Downtown Stockton, my family stopped attending for a number of years. The festival seems to have finally rebuilt its allure, and I believe has played a large part in rehabilitating the image of Downtown Stockton. I now attend the festival every year, in large part just to be supportive. If it was held at the County Fairgrounds, it seems to me festival organizers would have to face once again rehabilitating the festival’s image.

  5. April 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    The festival is great downtown by the water, by the Delta. The fairgrounds are not a first rate facility. How sad they would even consider such a move.

  6. babsbp
    April 24, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    How sad they would even consider this move.. The fairgrounds are a second rate facility. And the Asparagus Festival needs to be near the water, near the Delta — that’s part of the history.

  7. David Garcia
    April 24, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    The Record is now reporting that the hold up has to do with the festival’s proceeds as the city would like a larger share since they claim that they subsidize the festival. Hopefully the city and the festival can come to an agreement, because if the festival leaves downtown, everyone loses.

    http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130424/A_NEWS/130429935

  8. CM
    April 24, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    Horrible idea. I think that would effectively kill the festival. The festival has it’s charm because of its location downtown on the waterfront. I know some balk at the idea of spending precious city resources on the festival, however, I think the amount of tax dollars and tourist dollars brought in to our local economy greatly outweigh that cost. There’s a reason the city spent millions of dollars on Weber Point, the marina, the plazas, and entertainment venues — to host events just like this. The festival is one of the few good things we have to celebrate and be proud of here. A move to the fairgrounds into a higher crime neighborhood, from the scenic views downtown would be a mammoth mistake. As a comparison, think of the beautiful photos being circulated on Facebook of aerial shots of the festival, with the waterfront, the sunset, the beautiful performance stage, green grass, parks, and people. Now, imagine how that beautiful aerial shot would look at the fairgrounds. Gross. I would not go.

  9. Jon Seisa
    April 24, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    When given lemons, make lemonade!

    Actually, I see the greatest opportunity ever, here. Don’t look at the immediate negative, but go beyond that and see the positive possibilities, the breakthrough opportunities, and the door that is opening wide before your eyes for something NEW.

    From my perspective, this is a great opportunity for Stockton to establish a more suitable URBAN-ORIENTED and METROPOLITAN-ORIENTED annual replacement event on a “classy level” for the Downtown Weber Events Center venue, a dynamic cultural arts-entertainment event of high visibility, high intensity and of world acclaimed stature (exceeding the Asparagus Festival) that is exclusively appropriate for the city of Stockton; and that direction, in my professional creative analysis, would be the leveraging of a world premiere:

    “DAVE BRUBECK CALIFORNIA JAZZ AFFAIRE – STOCKTON: Music, Art, Wine & Food”

    …featuring a conglomerate array of world celebrated jazz artists and renowned gourmet chefs, like Wolfgang Puck, Alton Brown, Michael Chiarello, Thomas Keller, and Sandra Lee, and highlighting other musical California contemporary jazz scene talents and regional art galleries, fine artists and graphic artists, participation by the California Jazz Foundation to generate proceed-aid for aging California jazz musicians, booths and facilities for Stockton and San Joaquin County’s restaurants, bistros, eateries, pastry bakers, a Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop, and acclaimed California wineries (not merely county wineries), and art display courtyards. The immense and positive notoriety level of such an annual cultural arts affaire, having great equity in the Dave Brubeck name, will single-handedly elevate Stockton’s image through the stratosphere and help reinvent the city with increased integrity. This would be UOP’s Brubeck Festival on steroids and morphed to the next quantum-leap level on the world stage with international limelight.

    Simultaneously, it is the best opportunity ever to improve and reconceptualize the outdated and dull SJC Fairgrounds with a modern facelift, and catapult it into the 21st Century for the annual “Stockton Asparagus Festival” and other notable and regional events. It should be accompanied with a more contemporary and abbreviated name and image makeover as well, i.e. more simply: “SAN JOAQUIN EXPO”.

    It is also time for the SJC Authorities to look at Orange County’s spectacular, amazing and stunning “Great Park” design for inspiration to improve, on a more microcosmic level, the fairgrounds beyond the “typical” fairground venue and integrate sustainable design and environmental design features with natural eco-landscaping to transform the venue into an “experiential” phenomenon that is visually dynamic, aesthetically stimulating and highly memorable, compounded with featuring breathtaking architectural “green” expo pavilions of a world class nature, perhaps centered around an artificial lake, and the venue having a monthlyschedule of convention/exposition events and opportunities that will influx ongoing external revenue into the city of Stockton.

    THE ORANGE COUNTY GREAT PARK: http://www.ocgp.org/learn/design/

    IMAGES:

  10. April 24, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    I think having the festival at the fairgrounds would be a horrible idea. Either send it back to Oak Grove Park or revamp the downtown location. I really don’t look forward to the Asparagus Festival each year.

  11. J. Phengdy
    June 9, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    So they can make $$$ on parking and entrance fee if moved to the fairgrounds.

  12. Mario A. Dagatan
    March 28, 2015 at 8:18 pm #

    I think the fairground is the best location than the waterfront. Because I lived close to the waterfront and these people don’t pay for parking, they just park in the side of the street and take my parking spot that makes me crazy. And now I feel happy that this coming 2015 asparagus festival I don’t have to worry where to park my car. And thanks for moving the festival to the fairground. God bless.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Thursday notes: SPD nationally ranked, Stockton’s population keeps growing, the Asparagus Festival and more | Stockton City Limits - May 2, 2013

    […] are negotiating a new deal which will hopefully keep the event in Downtown Stockton. However, as reported by SCL last week, festival officials are considering a move to the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds should […]

  2. Wednesday notes: new downtown tenants, Aparagus Festival attendance woes, and Detroit | Stockton City Limits - May 15, 2013

    […] fairgrounds would have been a step backwards for several reasons. According to SCL’s own poll, 85% of SCL readers want to keep the Asparagus Festival downtown. However, the festival may be facing bigger problems […]

  3. Thursday notes: Lots of news about downtown development | Stockton City Limits - July 25, 2013

    […] Stockton’s premier event on the waterfront. As first reported by SCL, festival officials were considering a move to the SJ County Fairgrounds to save money and provide more parking. Once the story broke, officials were quick to say that they […]

  4. Asparagus Festival considers move to fairgrounds | - August 16, 2013

    […] Fans on the festival’s Facebook page and other observers in the community hope the festival can stay downtown. David Garcia made the case for keeping the event downtown in his blog, Stockton City Limits. […]

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