2020 Sun Prairie Corn Fest cancelled, turned into virtual fundraising event

More than 100,000 visitors were expected during the Sun Prairie Corn Fest four-day August event at Angell Park with its namesake corn tent featuring steamed sweet corn (in photo), beer, food, live music and a carnival midway.

Sun Prairie’s 2020 Sweet Corn Fest has canceled over COVID-19 concerns as organizers try to salvage the financial hit to the event’s non-profit vendors.

More than 100,000 visitors were expected during the four-day August event at Angell Park with its namesake corn tent, beer, food, live music and carnival.

The summer of 2020 has already seen the Wisconsin State Fair, the Taste of Madison and other local events canceled with the pandemic’s restrictions on large gatherings.

Sun Prairie’s Sweet Corn Fest is the largest fundraiser for the Sun Prairie Lions Club, Sun Prairie Exchange Club, VFW Post 9362 and American Legion Post 333.

The Sun Prairie Chamber of Commerce canceled the event Monday, June 1 after reviewing Public Health Madison & Dane County guidelines and meeting with Sun Prairie service organizations.

The plan now is to turn Corn Fest into a virtual fundraiser for local non-profit groups.

“We are asking people who haven’t been financially burdened by COVID-19 if they can contribute what they would have spent at the Corn Fest this year to help out these service organizations,” Sun Prairie Chamber of Commerce Director Amy Skicki said.

The chamber will also find sponsors for the virtual event and encourage businesses to help Corn Fest non-profit vendors.

American Legion Post 333 and VFW Post 9362 alternate each year between running the Corn Fest’s food stand, which raked in $10,000 last year, and the beer tent that brought in $6,700.

“These are our main fundraisers and this puts a real bind on our checkbook,” said Dennis Norton, quartermaster for the VFW and finance officer for the VFW. Norton is also a former commander for American Legion Post 333.

The VFW will be especially hard hit with bills coming in for its Post building at 349 S. Walker Way in Sun Prairie, Norton said. The post, which has one full-time employee and six part-time bartenders, opened its bar last week after COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants were lifted.

Norton said the post may hold a fundraiser event near the Corn Fest’s date.

“If this crazy lockdown still exists, we could have a drive-thru and sell brats and burgers,” Norton said. “Even if we raise $1,000, that’s better than nothing.”

The Sun Prairie Chamber of Commerce will also suffer from the Corn Fest cancellation, losing more than $80,000-$100,000 in net revenue from the event, Skicki said.

“While some restrictions have recently been lifted and businesses are being reopened,” Skicki said. “Dane County still requires strict safety measures.”

The Forward Dane plan including social distancing, sanitizing procedures and limitations to the number of people allowed at public gatherings. Dane County is now in Phase 1. Skicki said even if the county could reach Phase 3 by the time of the Corn Fest, that would have only allowed 250 people maximum into the event.

City of Sun Prairie Economic Development Director Neil Stechschulte said the economic impact of the cancellation will certainly be noticeable to local restaurants, shops, stores, gas stations and other businesses but the chamber made the right decision to follow safety guidelines.

“We also know there will be impacts to our local civic groups who count on Corn Fest as a major fundraiser for their organizations,” Stechschulte said. “By hosting a virtual event, the chamber is creating an opportunity to assist those organizations through this difficult year.”

Skicki said she is meeting with leaders of the Sun Prairie Business Improvement District board of directors and the Sun Prairie Tourism Commission to gauge the economic impact of event cancellations on each organization and local businesses.

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