The organizer of the annual Ribfest in Naperville recently announced it is looking for a new location in 2020, and one Will County town is in the running – Romeoville.
Mary Howenspine, a spokeswoman for the Exchange Club of Naperville, which organizes Ribfest, said the Naperville Park District notified the group late last summer that there will be construction that would prevent the event from being at its normal location, Knoch Park in Naperville. Howenspine said Ribfest has been held at the park, which is located just off downtown Naperville, since at least 1990.
The Exchange Club of Naperville has since formed a team to explore other possible sites, including Aurora, Oswego and Romeoville. Howenspine said the team is evaluating all options, and the list of potential locations could grow to as many as 10 as the process moves along.
“We need acres, and we need parking,” she said.
Howenspine said the village of Romeoville and Mayor John Noak have been helpful and open throughout the process. Noak said the possibility of bringing Ribfest to Romeoville is an “interesting opportunity.”
“We’re talking about one of the premiere events in suburban Chicago that happens every year,” Noak said. “It’s a proven event with a proven organization.”
The numbers show it. Howenspine said that in 2017, Ribfest attracted about 150,000 people, of which about 80,000 were paid attendees. Many come for the free fireworks portion of the event, with others able to watch at satellite locations, she said. About half of the attendees usually come from outside of Naperville.
Ribfest has attracted big names in music in recent years, including Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and rapper Pitbull.
It’s also a massive charitable event. The Exchange Club is volunteer-run and works to fund other agencies in the Chicago area that focus on issues such as child abuse and domestic violence prevention. Howenspine said the club was able to donate to about 50 agencies last year because of Ribfest. Since 1988, Ribfest has generated about $17.5 million, which the club has given to various agencies.
Howenspine said the Exchange Club wants to keep the event close to Naperville. Noak added that one of the advantages of having Ribfest in Romeoville is the village’s accessibility, with proximity to major highways including Interstates 55 and 355.
Howenspine also added that the organizers are “looking for a home” with previous agreements for Ribfest lasting multiple years.
Noak said there are different potential layouts being analyzed, including having part of Ribfest at the amphitheater at Deer Crossing Park near Village Hall. The village’s annual carnival, Romeofest, takes place at and around the park and the grounds near the Romeoville Recreation Department. Noak said that location could provide more overall space for Ribfest than Knoch Park.
Noak said it is a tribute to the village’s investment in infrastructure over the past several years that Romeoville is being considered to host Ribfest.
“It’s a regional event, not just one for that site,” Noak said. “It’s really become a Chicagoland event.”
Noak said issues such as parking always will be a challenge. There probably will have to be off-site parking and shuttle buses going to the main site included in the operation.
The village also has an advantage, Noak said, as it directly runs a large portion of its parks and recreation and fire departments. The streamlined approach allows the village to be more nimble in working with the Exchange Club.