Commentary: 5 Ways To Improve The Wichita River Festival

How Would I Improve the Wichita River Festival?

Let’s talk about one of the most polarizing events in town, the Wichita River Festival.

So many people complained about the event. I’m a believer in the complaints are valid if your intention is you want the event to improve. Some just want to see the world burn down, while others truly want a better Wichita.

I stopped by the event three different times, saw some things, thought about it for a while and wanted to make a list of five things I think would make for a better Wichita River Festival.

1.) Better Advertisement for Button Prices, Promotions, and Early Bird

One of the biggest complaints about Riverfest (and basically any ticketed event) is pricing. Button prices went up for the first time since 2015. This year, they went up to $15. 

But one thing people didn’t know was there was an early bird price of $10. Another assumption some people had was that all buttons were $15 regardless of age. I’d see comments that it cost $60+ for a family of four. Kids age 6-12 were still $5.

I think we’re all in agreement that prices of everything has gone up. That includes the cost of throwing an event. People will always complain about prices. Yes, prices could have stayed the same, but that would have meant cutting corners in throwing less of a quality event.

If the $5 price increase was a dealbreaker, then buy them during the early bird. If you didn’t know about it, then that’s the Riverfest’ organizers job to better promote that or run the early bird pricing longer or start it earlier.

If the button prices are just too much, maybe next year some organization could step up and either supply buttons for those families who want to go, but can’t, or subsidize the cost of them to where it’s around $5. If that’s the case, it’ll take the effort of the community.

And if all else fails, people can still use an old button to attend one of the nights of Wichita River Fest. That’s probably the best way to get in free.

2.) Involve More Community Businesses

Speaking of community, if we could find a way to involve the local businesses more, maybe that would take away the “it’s too commercialized” complaint. 

The biggest gripe I’ve heard is, “why aren’t there local food trucks?”. For starters, I don’t know of a single food truck that has wanted to be open for 9 straight days all afternoon and evening long. I’m not sure they are equipped or staffed to put that many hours into a festival. Nor would a majority even want to, if so, they have not been vocal about it. Yes, fees is also a big deal on why local vendors would rather not show up. It’s not ideal, but the festival has to be able to bring in some money to help recoup the costs.

So, what compromises could be made to involve local businesses? Here are some ideas I had:

  • Have a Riverfest week after the event is over for the button and provide more value to that $10-15 purchase people make. This makes the button good for the days of Riverfest, plus the week or maybe few days after.
    • See if local businesses would be willing to offer some sort of discount with a Riverfest button
    • Partner with local attractions like Exploration Place, the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita Art Museum, Tanganyika Wildlife Park, and offering discounts for entry into those establishments with a button
  • Would it be possible to have a one day Riverfest kickoff either at the start or end of the event that includes a food truck rally? Block off a separate area for this rally. Incentivize food trucks to help sell buttons.
  • Work with organizations like the Wichita Asian Association to hosts an Asian Night Market festival where a button is required.

3.) Bring back the Block Party in some fashion

People miss the Block Party. So, here’s my compromise, could we move the date of Open Streets or add another Open Streets day to the Sunday following the fireworks? Have Open Streets and Wichita River Festival work hand-in-hand to have some sort of big block party on a smaller scale than how big Open Streets is?

4.) Clean Up the Riverfest Website

This is a suggestion I gave directly to some event workers. The Wichita River Festival is almost too busy. The schedule of events and what’s going should be the foremost thing people see on the website. 

I know there’s an app, but some people want to avoid downloading yet another app on their phone.

5.) Have an Adults Only Area for the Festival

At the Kansas State Fair, they have a little area where you have to be 21+ to enter. Not everybody has kids, not everybody wants to be around teenagers, and I get it. 

If they could section off an area for the adults only, this would appease those who want an evening with no kids. Invite  some local breweries on site along with other drink vendors, have some live music and give others a reason to find a babysitter.

This still makes the Wichita River Festival a family-friendly event; the kids just can’t access a limited-area.

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I’m all for the Wichita River Festival succeeding. There are areas that will always be a gripe for people. Some things the event workers have no control of. Cost will always be an issue.

But even with all that, there are ways to improve what should be Wichita’s biggest party.


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