City Considers Replacing Oktoberfest

By Jenny Chen

Oktoberfest in Kentlands may soon become simply a memory.

At the Jan. 22 Mayor and Council meeting, Denise Kayser, Gaithersburg’s arts and events division chief for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture, presented a proposal to revamp two long-running city events, the annual Oktoberfest celebration at Kentlands and the Celebrate! Gaithersburg Festival in Olde Towne.

Due to numerous complaints about long lines and crowdedness at the Oktoberfest, Kayser proposed to replace the fall festival with a summer arts and wine festival that would span a larger area and separate kids’ activities from adult entertainment.

“We get a lot of complaints from people that they can’t manage their way through the crowd,” Kayser said.

Oktoberfest, sponsored by the city of Gaithersburg and the Kentlands Citizens Assembly, has been a community event for 21 years, but it is no longer on the current city calendar for 2013.

Some residents, like Elly Shaw Belblidia, would be sorry to see it go. “I’m pretty fussy about festivals; a lot of them aren’t that good. But the Kentlands Oktoberfest is a gem. It’s so popular and it’s so well done. There are activities for everybody. … It’s the best neighborhood festival I’ve ever been to,” Belblidia said.

Kayser said the proposed arts and wine festival would be in the best interests of Kentlands residents because the city would heavily solicit suggestions and involvement of community businesses in creating the new event. In addition, because the proposed festival would span a greater part of the Kentlands area — both the Old Farm area and the area between Market Square and Main Street — visitors would get a better idea of the Kentlands community, and the event would encourage them to patronize more Kentlands businesses during their visit.

Kayser also said holding the festival in the summer will avoid conflict with multiple other projects the city juggles in the fall, relieving some of the stress event timing currently places on several departments.

“Many leaders in the [Kentlands] community are talking about having a community-based Oktoberfest, so more of going back to the original vision [for that event,]” she said.

Judy Gross, the Kentlands Citizens Assembly secretary and a member of the Cultural Arts Commission, said KCA members are unhappy they were not notified of the proposed changes before the proposals were unveiled at the mayor and Council Meeting. However, she personally thinks the proposed changes are a good idea. Oktoberfest has become “too commercialized,” she said.

According to Kayser, KCA President Tim Clarke did not want a presentation made directly to the KCA, but he attended the Jan. 22 mayor and Council meeting.

“The original response of the [KCA] board was, ‘Keep us advised [of City Council discussions],’ and I said okay,” said Clarke. “The city hasn’t concluded [its] discussion yet. The KCA board meets on [Feb. 27]. It’s on the agenda to discuss. … If the city doesn’t want to do Oktoberfest, Kentlands can do Oktoberfest if it want[s].”

Changes to the Celebrate! Gaithersburg Street Festival are also under consideration, including moving the event to a Saturday in October and focusing it around a central fall theme.

A work session is scheduled for March 11 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall to receive public input and discuss further the concerns such as funding, proposed dates, impact on area businesses, scheduling of vendors and more.