Festival season fuels Port’s tourism industry

Number, variety of events organized by different groups draw visitors and millions of dollars to city, official says

Fish Day, Port Washington's largest festival, draws thousands of people to the city every July. A parade is one of the highlights of the event. Press file photo
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Sunday marked the start of Port Washington’s busy summer festival season.

It started with the Community Street Festival on May 27, continues this weekend with Port Pirate Daze, and is rapidly followed by Henderson’s Ride for Hope and Race the Harbor.

In July, there’s the city’s Independence Day activities and Fish Day, while August brings Lions Fest before the season ends on Labor Day weekend with the Paramount Music Festival.

In between, there are beer gardens that draw crowds to Upper Lake Park, stops by the tall ship Denis Sullivan, concerts and fishing derbies.

“We have a real multidimensional feeling to our tourism season,” said Kathy Tank, executive director of the Port Washington Tourism Council. “Fishing is a big part of it, and festivals are, too.

“And our festivals are pretty diverse. There’s something for just about everyone. The Community Street Festival is going to feel different than Pirate Fest, which is going to feel different than Fish Day or the Paramount Music Festival. Different people want different experiences.”

Some communities have one entity that organizes many of their festivals, Tank noted, and that can sometimes give these events a generic feeling.

But in Port, each festival has its own sponsoring group and focus that gives it an identity all its own.

That’s a challenge, Tank said, because each group needs to find its own sponsors and volunteers, making them more of a challenge to sustain.

But that uniqueness also draws people to the event and the city, she said.

“Festivals really imply a fun day,” Tank said. “They let people know there’s something going on in the community. You’ll get to have some food, maybe things you haven’t tried before. You’ll listen to some music, do some activities, hang out with family and friends.

“The whole idea of a festival connotes fun.”

Tourism is big business in Port. Using the State Department of Tourism’s formula Tank estimated tourists spent $8.1 million in Port during the first six months of last year.

But merchants often have mixed feelings about the festivals, Tank said.

Some believe it negatively impacts day-to-day business because it makes it more difficult for local residents to get to their shops, she said.

“But even if people aren’t coming in that day, you’re getting thousands of people walking past your door — more people than you would have if there hadn’t been a festival,” she said. “It’s really free advertising and PR.”

For example, Tank said, the Fish Day committee often reports 30,000 to 50,000 people attend its festival, dubbed the world’s largest one-day outdoor fish fry. While many businesses are closed that day, the people who line the streets for the parade and head to the lakefront for the music and food see what the city — and its businesses — have to offer.

At the very least, hotels, bars and restaurants often report increased sales on festival weekends, she said.

Often people who stop in the community for a festival will find reasons to return, and merchants reap the benefits when that occurs, Tank said.

Port has more to offer tourists — and residents — than just festivals in summer, Tank added.

“I think there’s a lot of buzz and excitement about the good things happening here in downtown. And our focus on outdoor lifestyles is growing. I’m excited to see what kind of traffic Sherper’s will bring, especially with its kayak rentals on the lakefront,” she said, referring to the outdoor clothing and equipment store expected to open an outlet in downtown Port this summer.    

“That’ll help make the city more attractive too.”

    

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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