A rainy 24th Country Stampede — er, now Heartland Stampede — wrapped up Sunday, but some people in Manhattan are still reeling from the announcement that the country music festival is moving permanently to Topeka.
The change, which means an annual loss of about $8 million for Manhattan, sparked lots of rumors on social media.
Stampede President Wayne Rouse, who was overseeing the cleanup of the festival in Topeka on Monday, took time to talk through some of those rumors.
Q: Is it true that you and other Stampede officials had been planning this change for a long time before you announced it?
A: That’s not true. You know a couple years ago we were approached by some people on moving the festival, which we had no interest in doing. We’ve had a lot of opportunities to go other places.
I’ve also heard we were moving to Texas, which isn’t true, obviously.
Manhattan was our home. But it just reached the point it wasn’t sustainable. If we hadn’t moved, this probably would have been our last year.
You know, we really loved Manhattan, and I really want to express how much the CVB and Chamber and everybody has been helpful over the 23 years that we held the event there. It’s just a wonderful community.
Q: Is it true that Topeka had been trying for some time to convince you to move the festival?
A: Oh, yeah. I mean that’s kind of the job of the people promoting any city. We’ve had people from all over to get us to try to relocate there. When the evacuation order came down (for the river pond area at Tuttle Creek), and the water was pretty close to the top of the spillway, we were checking out some other areas.
(The Heartland Motorsports Park people were) very accommodating in getting us the weekend we needed. Already had the talent booked, so we really couldn’t move it.
But Topeka understood our situation and said they’d help any way they could. It worked well.
Q: You said that last year you negotiated an opt-out provision in your contract with Tuttle Creek. Had you been planning a move since then?
A: The reason we did that and the reason the state went along with it is, I just explained that we couldn’t keep taking hits. Just like any business, but we didn’t want to give up trying. And they have always been very, very supportive of us. And the people with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism have been great.
It’s just like all of us had the same feeling. We tried to figure out anything we could do. Tried different marketing strategies, things we could do to draw people in.
Q: It seemed like the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism made it really easy for you to get out of the contract because they didn’t enforce any sort of penalty. Had they been wanting out of the deal?
A: They wanted it. They wanted it. They definitely wanted it at the state park, without a doubt. One concern was that when I asked to get out of the lease, they wanted to make sure that it stayed in Kansas, because of the tourism. They’ve been nothing but just. … You couldn’t ask for anyone greater to work with.
That’s what I would like to get across more than anything is that the chamber worked hard, especially Karen Hibbard with the (Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau), to help us. The whole board did.
Q: Is there anything Manhattan officials could have done, or should have done to help you keep it in the Little Apple?
A: No. In the last five to 10 years, there’s been a 100-percent increase in talent costs. There wasn’t any way we could have stayed there.
I feel really bad because I’ve seen a lot of feedback on Facebook, you know, people upset with us. But you know, if we could have kept it there, we would have. But it just wasn’t sustainable.
We tried different things, and it just … we needed to be closer to KC. They have two major interstates that intersect here in Topeka. And they have the population base that we need.
We do love Manhattan. But it’s a business.
Q: Is it true that the festival in the future will include rap music?
A: No, we’re not going to go to rap. We’re country. Country and traditional country. We might have, like we did in the old days, a classic rock act like that. Not rap.