The decision to move Country Stampede to Topeka is disappointing on several levels. There are a couple of lessons to draw from it, too.
The disappointment stems largely from the fact that the Stampede was a signature event in Manhattan, one that brought national attention and roughly $8 million in economic impact to our area every year. It was the kind of event that we like to be able to point to and say: See, we live in a thriving area.
We say "disappointment" because some of the facts of the matter leave us cold:
• First, it's evident that Stampede had been concerned for years with the economics of the festival. The cost of talent had continued to rise, so it needed a better cost structure to continue to thrive.
• Second, it's now apparent that Topeka had been courting the privately owned festival for years. The recent flood damage and danger at Tuttle Creek State Park, where Stampede had been held for 23 years, was the trigger that made the move happen.
• Third, it's clear that the people in charge of the state park didn't really care that much about keeping Stampede. They let the festival out of its lease without any penalties, and waived the clause that would have prevented Stampede from operating a music festival anywhere for 18 months if they walked.
• Fourth, there was not really anybody in Manhattan who was seriously tasked with keeping Stampede here. The Convention and Visitors Bureau is probably the entity with the most direct stake, but there wasn't a contract or anything formal to make that stick. The CVB, Chamber of Commerce, city government and other official entities were left out in the cold when the announcement came in Topeka.
Perhaps we should just be grateful for the good times. It was a great ride, with the top performers in country music appearing here for an entire generation. Stampede officials were always gracious about Manhattan, and that continued even through Thursday's announcement of the move. We can't help but wish them well.
First, don't ever take anything for granted. No explanation needed.
Second, it's always best to assign tasks to specific people. Whose job is it, really?
It brings to mind the moment, in the early 2000s, when the federal government decided to realign and close military bases, and Manhattan basically tasked one person — John Armbrust — with coordinating our efforts. The end result was enormous growth at Fort Riley.
It takes a communitywide effort, of course, and usually lots of money. But the alternative — where Stampede stands up at a news conference to announce a move to Topeka, and nobody on the Manhattan side really knows what's happening — is certainly not a pleasant one.