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Cheese, Wine Expo Will Continue In 2018
Members of the Riverbank City Council recently directed the city staff to continue with plans for the Cheese and Wine Expo for 2018, including the popular wine tasting portion of the festival. News File Photo

A longstanding festival in Riverbank will continue in 2018.

At the Feb. 13 Riverbank City Council meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Sue Fitzpatrick gave council members and the public an update on the planning of this year’s Cheese and Wine Festival and requested direction on how to continue. Mayor Richard O’Brien, Vice Mayor Darlene Barber-Martinez, Councilmember Cal Campbell, and Councilmember Leanne Jones Cruz were all in attendance and voted for the city staff to continue plans for the upcoming Cheese and Wine Festival and renew the contract with Chris Ricci Presents, Inc.

Councilmember Cindy Fosi was not in attendance.

For the past four years, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department has taken charge in coordinating the festival and for those four years they have contracted with Ricci. The direction last year from the council was to proceed with the event for the next two years. However, the council requested to re-evaluate the 2017 event so all vendors and plans were suspended until direction was given at the recent council meeting.

The Chamber of Commerce originally hosted the event which was then purchased by the Riverbank Rotary. The Rotary staged the festival for about eight years. After expressing that the task was far too large for their club to manage, they sold it to the city in 2014.

“The festival has been held in Riverbank for the past 41 years,” stated Fitzpatrick. “The city talked about it a lot because it was a lot to take on for a small department. So what we decided is we would try it out and purchase it from the Rotary Club but we couldn’t do it by ourselves so we decided to contract with somebody to help us. That is what we have done over the past four years.”

The City purchased the rights to the event for $15,000 with an agreement to pay the Rotary $3,000 per year for a five-year period. This year will be the City’s final payment to the club. This year the City staff took over the vendor coordination and the wine tasting was moved to the Antigua Event Center. They also brought in the “Mod Shop” which added more craft vendors to the event.

“Financially the event has been self-sustaining,” added Fitzpatrick. “There has been no use of the General Fund money; that was another concern we had when we decided to take over the event.”

The City Council was presented with three options.

Option 1: Continue planning for this year’s event and renew the contract with Chris Ricci Presents, Inc. Use the bid information toward next year’s decision if the City Council feels the need to review other options. Begin the bid process in November, 2018 to allow adequate time and not delay planning.

Option 2: Review the Request for Proposals and bring back a report to the City Council on March 13 for further direction.

Option 3: Discontinue the Cheese & Wine Festival and begin working on an alternate special event that the City can administer.

“The festival I think has been successful financially and operationally and the community seems to enjoy the event,” said Fitzpatrick. “We have learned a lot every year. The event has been safe and the alcohol has been under control. That was a big worry that we had when we took over the event.”

The city has sent a request for proposals to other independent contractors to prepare for the city council’s decision, whether they want to change contractors in subsequent years.

With a vote of four to zero the City Council selected Option 1 and directed Parks and Rec officials to begin the bid process review in November of this year since it takes approximately a year to plan the festival.

“I really like having the Cheese and Wine here and I think that is what Riverbank is known for,” stated Barber-Martinez. “So my option would be to continue it.”

Councilmember Jones Cruz agreed with Barber-Martinez and City Manager Sean Scully advised council that Fosi had asked him to give her vote to continue with the event as well.

“We would be setting ourselves up for failure if we review the RFP (go with Option 2) and go with a different contractor because then that would take until April or May before you really get it going,” stated O’Brien regarding the options. “That is my opinion. I would go with number one but still take a look at the RFP, what they are saying on that and what you can get out of it and do negotiations in November (this year) for 2019.”