Fort Mill to celebrate spring with new festival

FORT MILL -- Tony's, a downtown pizza parlor gutted by fire, wasn't the only casualty from last year's Fest-i-Fun.

The festival itself may be gone for good.

New Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk has decided to create a new town-sponsored SpringFest to take the place of Fest-i-Fun. And with it come several changes to the 25-year-old event.

The new, scaled-down festival will harken back to traditional town festivals, Funderburk said, with a focus on local music and food. SpringFest will move away from Main Street and will be held either on the 2-acre field on North White Street adjacent to Founders and the railroad track or to Walter Elisha Park. It is still scheduled for the first weekend in May but will run only from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 4.

Gone will be many of the vendors that lined Main Street over the years. Local church groups and nonprofits will get first dibs on a limited number of vendor slots, mostly devoted to food, Funderburk said.

Funderburk said he wants SpringFest to move away from being a venue for out-of-town vendors to sell items for a profit and more to a major fundraising opportunity for local nonprofits. He's not ruling out allowing some local commercial vendors, especially ones that will focus on selling local cuisine.

"Right now, we're not going to have any of the artisan vendors; we're kind of pushing those more toward Art on Main, which will be in the fall," said Brown Simpson, Fort Mill Parks and Recreation director.

Simpson's heading the new SpringFest Committee to plan the festival.

Although many aspects of the spring festival will change -- the kiddie rides, pet show, street vendors and fireworks are gone -- one popular feature, the grilled pork chop sandwiches sold by the Philadelphia United Methodist men's group, will have a spot at SpringFest, Simpson said. The group fits the bill as both a food vendor and a local nonprofit.

"Over the last two or three years, we had some pretty serious safety concerns," Funderburk said, referring to the Tony's Pizza fire that canceled Fest-i-Fun after the first night last year, and several arrests for fighting on Main Street the previous two years.

Fest-i-Fun was the brainchild of former Mayor Charles Powers, who along with his wife, Peggy, and others served on the Fest-i-Fun Committee, a nonprofit organization that controlled the festival.

It was not an official town-sponsored event, although Fort Mill ended up supporting it through roughly $1,200 of in-kind donations each year on tasks ranging from a police presence at the festival to town workers helping to set up and break down each year, Funderburk said.

By contrast, SpringFest will be an official town event and will get planning support from the new SpringFest Committee, one of several citizens committees Funderburk wants to create. A volunteer committee of about 20 is working on the festival.

Funderburk said he wanted a clean break from the past.

"I'm confident this will be a brand new era for the town festival," he said.

Meanwhile, Powers said he is unsure of the fate of Fest-i-Fun. His committee owns the name, and he said it planned to hold the festival again this year until Funderburk told him about SpringFest.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen (with Fest-i-Fun)," Powers said. "I hope to meet with the city soon to figure it out."