LOWELL | The Lowell Labor Day Festival will move this year from its longtime home on the grounds of American Legion Post 101.
Instead, the festival is planned in September on the former site of Rieter Automotive, which burned down. The owners of the property are now Jeff, Mike and Dave Austgen, brothers from the Lowell area.
Making the switch from the traditional site was not planned, said Lowell Chamber of Commerce President Carrie Austgen, who heads up the festival portion of the town's popular Lowell Labor Day Parade and Festival.
The switch was the result, in part, of tight pocketbooks.
Legion Post Cmdr. George Wesselhoft said he believed it was time to raise the price the Legion charged for use of the grounds and building.
Wesselhoft said the fee had remained in the $1,000 range for two decades. The legion's executive board voted to charge $1,600 plus ask for a percentage of beer sales.
"I don't want bad blood between us," Carrie Austgen said of the chamber's rejection of the agreement. "We don't have the money people may think we have. Our membership is dropping."
All food vendors and others signed up to participate in the festival were notified of the change. Only one backed out, Carrie Austgen said.
Local businessman Jim Konradi also is a member of Post 101.
"I think it could be a good thing," he said of the move to the Rieter property.
Konradi recalled when the Labor Day Festival was at Oakland Park many years ago. It is adjacent to the Rieter property on West Oakley Avenue.
Wesselhoft said the American Legion will host its own beer garden during the Labor Day weekend and plans to have booths with various vendors.
"We're doing our own thing," he said.
Austgen said the switch has brought other changes.
The carnival will be larger, and the festival will be on blacktop and gravel with plenty of on-site parking. Downtown merchants are organizing a sidewalk sale during the weekend's festivities, and the Lowell Lions Car Show will be an added attraction.