CROWN POINT — Massive crowds flocked to the city’s new Bulldog Park this past weekend to celebrate the annual Corn Roast.
“It was fantastic,” said Sue Reed, president and CEO of Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce. “The Corn Roast brought record crowds and vendors to the city. Vendors were excited with the business at the new facility. It was really a successful, fun family event.”
However, with the crowds came longer lines and limited parking downtown, leaving some festival-goers with mixed feelings about the $11-million recreational facility hosting other activities.
Days after the Corn Roast wrapped up, the Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce announced it was canceling this year’s Food and Arts Festival, which was to be held at Bulldog Park.
Formerly known as the Taste of Crown Point, the annual festival includes live music and art and craft booths accompanied with a variety of food vendors.
With the new venue, the chamber was unsure how many vendors could participate in the event, which is typically twice the size of the annual Corn Roast.
“When we went into planning, Bulldog Park wasn’t even built. We had no way of knowing how many vendors we could accommodate. We didn’t find that out until April,” Reed said. “We will work out the kinks with Corn Roast this year and then plan proactively to have both next year.
“It was a difficult decision to make but we want people to be reassured that we haven’t just killed it.”
Crown Point Mayor David Uran said city officials were informed of the chamber's decision last year to cancel the annual event, which came as a shock. He said options are being explored by the city to offer a similar event this year.
“We have the means available with Bulldog Park to pull something off like that ourselves,” he said.
Corn Roast concerns
For Shannon Brown, the Corn Roast was everything she expected it to be. The Lowell mother said Saturday’s “vendors were great, food was great, music was great.” Her boys took advantage of the carnival games and bouncy houses while she enjoyed listening to live music sitting on the turf.
“I understand other people's concerns about being overcrowded. It seemed that way to me as well, but it was overcrowded when it was on the square as well,” Brown said. “I feel the park is still new and people don't know how to judge it quite yet. It was the first year there, so I'm sure they did not know how it was going to go and the turnout.
“Bulldog Park has a lot to offer Crown Point. They just need to fix the little bugs about parking and road closures."
Jennifer Zampillo, on the other hand, said her time spent at the two-day festival was not as enjoyable as what she was used to.
Friday “started out nice but as it progressed, it started getting extremely cramped and felt disorganized,” she said after attending with friends. Lines to food vendors were long with the beer garden line being “the worst.”
“We ended up leaving by 8:30 p.m. and even forfeited tickets we had bought for the beer garden because it was that bad. It felt like there was no way out and no way to maneuver around people,” Zampillo said. “I’ve been going to this festival for years and part of the appeal is that it is in the square with the beautiful, unique courthouse in the background. Now it just feels like any other festival in Anywhere, USA.”
Bumps with Bulldog Park
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The Crossroads Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Corn Roast officially kicked off the city’s 2019 Hometown Festival Days. This was the first year the community-loved event moved from the historic downtown square to Bulldog Park, located along West Street next to Wheeler Middle School.
The annual festival included favorites like a corn-on-the cob eating contest, a corn hole tournament and live musical entertainment by the PRX (Party Rock Xperience) and The Dave Miller Band. The kids zone, splash pads, beer garden and more than 30 vendors were set up in the Franciscan Health Pavilion at Bulldog Park.
“Friday you couldn’t move. People came out because they are curious to see the new facility and be in there. This was the first nice weekend without rain,” Reed said. “I don’t think we will always see those kinds of crowds.”
There were some unexpected bumps that arose with the new venue, Reed said. One complaint expressed was a lack of seating available in the crammed space.
“Every time you go into a new venue, you have to work out the kinks. There just wasn’t enough seating,” Reed said, adding that Bulldog Park still isn’t complete with construction. “Next year we will know.”
Parking also produced some hiccups as South West Street experienced partial closures. The free-parking lots in and around Bulldog Park at local businesses filled quickly, causing some to park on the lawn next to the Citgo gas station on West Joliet Street.
Uran said large crowds and packed lots isn't a bad thing to have. It just means more people are staying and traveling to the city to take advantage of its local businesses and unique amenities.
“As a mayor, I was very impressed that the community and Region came out to support our downtown. Bulldog Park was packed. The square was full of people. Square restaurant owners were extremely happy with the Corn Roast going on because it brought in more business,” Uran said. “We had the best of both worlds with this. It was a great success on the outside looking in.”
Square Roots, which officially opened June 2, experienced up to two-hour wait times during the Corn Roast festival, said general manager Kyle Sobkowicz.
“This was a first real week of opening, but we were definitely packed,” Sobkowicz said. “Bulldog Park is great for us. It brings more people in to appreciate the awesome environment we have.”
Adapting to change
Bulldog Park, which was financed partially through a donation from the Dean and Barbara White Foundation, was built to provide a year-round recreation and event space for the city.
The 2.5-acre park is now home to the city’s Sounds of Summer concert series, weekly Farmers Market and Car Cruise, upcoming city-wide picnic and Hometown Happening’s Hometown Nite Ride. The space will also host more than a dozen free concerts throughout the summer months.
“It’s new and change is sometimes difficult for some people,” Uran said. “Despite what some are saying, Bulldog Park, to me, is a part of downtown. It isn’t taking away from anything. It’s only adding to Crown Point. We are excited with the foundation we set and possibilities leading us with future events.”
During Bulldog Park’s grand-opening celebration earlier this month, Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said he believes Bulldog Park will have many benefits for the city and Northwest Indiana.
“I can assure you that with this kind of investment we’re going to see more visitors, it’s going to improve your quality of life, it’s going to change the landscape of the businesses in the square and add to their value,” Batistatos said in a previous Times report.
Having grown up in Crown Point, Brown said she believes Bulldog Park will serve as a nice asset to the city – it may just take some time for people to get used to.
“The town is not and will not be what it was years ago. It’s expanding. It’s creating a new way and some people like it and some don't,” Brown said.