The Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce found out at the same time everyone else did that Country Stampede, now Heartland Stampede, was leaving for Topeka, Chamber President Jason Smith said.
Topeka city officials and Stampede officials announced Thursday that the state capital would be the new home of the music festival, which took place this weekend and has been in Manhattan the last 23 years. The new venue is Heartland Motorsports Park for at least the next three years.
Originally, Stampede President Wayne Rouse had said the event was moving to Topeka for this year only, because of flooding concerns at Tuttle Creek State Park.
Brad Everett, board member for the Manhattan Convention Visitors Bureau, said Rouse told the board at its June 5 meeting not to worry because the event would return next year.
Rouse told The Mercury Friday that when they started planning the layout on June 6, they began to plan for a more permanent move.
“We’re a business,” he said. “We love Manhattan; it was very good to us. The Chamber and the CVB have been exceptional. We had a great relationship with the state park, too. Moving here reduces our expenses, and it was ultimately a hard decision.”
Rouse said at the news conference announcing the move that Stampede would be leaving the state park because of rising costs.
Gil Cunningham, president of Neste Live!, which books acts for the event, said Thursday costs for artists have doubled over the past several years, as have costs of setting up the infrastructure. Cunningham said having some of the infrastructure in place as it it at Heartland and only having to set up a stage is more efficient.
He said raising ticket prices to offset the costs was not really an option. Rouse said prices for some of the top artists fans request had more than a 100% increase in the past five to seven years, so even doubling tickets for Stampede would not have made enough difference.
Everett said he was sad and disappointed to hear about the move. Especially troublesome, he said, was the way Stampede officials handled it, by not giving the city a real opportunity to help or make a counteroffer.
“After 23 years of contributing to the success of the festival, Manhattan and the region, I just wish they would’ve had a little more tact by sitting down with community leaders and having a conversation,” Everett said.
Smith said the Chamber has a $28,500 sponsorship agreement with Stampede. It has served as a sponsor for the last 23 years. He said the Chamber will be going through and looking at its ability to recoup the money for this year.
Rouse said he would not comment on that.
“Obviously we signed it a while ago, before we had any inclination they would be moving for one year, let alone this,” Smith said.
Everett said he wished both the city and the officials running Stampede had done more to communicate with each other, saying Stampede officials should’ve come forward with their frustration, and city officials should’ve been touching base with the festival-holders more often.
Rouse said the move to Topeka began as a matter of safety, but when he saw it was a way to remain in business, he took it.
“We couldn’t have kept going because you can’t raise ticket prices proportionately,” he said.
“We loved Manhattan. We love Manhattan. But we had to move closer to a higher populated area to attract more people. It’s hard to explain, but we definitely loved Manhattan. It was just an unfortunate situation because of the flood.”
Stampede was in the second year of a five-year contract worth $419,000 with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. The parties signed a termination agreement Wednesday that allowed Stampede to leave with no penalty. KDWPT officials called the decision “mutual and amicable.”
The contract included an opt-out provision, which Rouse said they negotiated last year to give Stampede the ability to leave.
Stampede paid the state $81,500 in 2018 and 2019. The KDWPT said it will refund the $81,500 from this year, as they could not have the festival in the park because of the flooding hazard.
Karen Hibbard, director of the Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau, declined to comment, citing a press release from the Chamber that she said intended to serve as the only statement.
In part, the statement said the Chamber was disappointed it was ending, but said officials understood it was not “a reflection on the city of Manhattan or Tuttle Creek State Park.”
“To Karen’s credit, when Stampede needed a place, she brainstormed with them and met the Country Stampede folks to make sure they were doing their part, and she was successful,” Everett said.
“But it seems like that hard work and effort was for not, that they didn’t appreciate it.”
Rouse, who owns a house in Manhattan, said at this time there are no plans to move Stampede’s business office closer to Topeka.