By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
The Iris Festival is on the move again.
The annual festival, which will be held in Keizer for a 27th time this May 15 to 18, is returning to its downtown roots this spring.
City councilor Joe Egli, festival chair for 2014 after being vice chair the last three years, confirmed this week the event will be moving to the Keizer Lions Club on Cherry Avenue.
The Iris Festival was last held in downtown Keizer in 2008, along River Road. But new construction led the four-day affair to be moved to Keizer Station in 2009.
However, various construction projects meant the event kept moving until space ran out, resulting in the latest move.
“We’re very, very excited,” Egli said. “The main grounds will be on the Lions property, in the fields. Keizer Elks will be participating as well.”
This month’s announcement culminates a search that lasted several months.
“Probably since last June is how long we’ve been looking,” Egli said. “We heard rumors of Kaiser Permanente purchasing the grounds where our tent was last year. We also heard of REI coming in. At the chamber, we were able to do some discussions. We looked hard at the five acres on the other side of Volcanoes Stadium, but K-FEST hasn’t done the work on getting us there.”
The last time Iris Festival was downtown, it was in the parking lot of the Wittenberg (now the Renaissance) Inn, which Egli said was simply too crowded.
Construction meant last year’s festival was split, with the tent by Panera Bread (where Kaiser Permanente is building a new medical facility now) and rides and booths at the Futsal Center, which will reopen as an REI store this spring.
“Our true hope is to have a permanent location where we can celebrate the Keizer community each year and come back to it each year,” Egli said. “This could be the new permanent home. There’s really going to be no new development in that area. We don’t have to worry about Old Navy or Kaiser Permanente coming in. This will also get the festival grounds back in one area. The last few years it has been in separate areas, spread out.”
Egli noted the committee looked at some short-term solutions, including the vacant Roth’s building at River and Chemawa Roads.
“We hope someone comes in there someday,” Egli said. “We knew that would only be a short-term answer.”
Over the years, Egli said he didn’t hear many comments or complaints about the Iris Festival being in Keizer Station, even after it got spread out.
“But the second we announced it’s coming back downtown, we got a lot of accolades that we are moving it back to River Road,” he said.
Egli said the main thing still to work out is parking, traffic and public safety at the new location.
“We’ve been working with the police,” he said. “Safety concerns are being addressed. We’re trying to be proactive with public safety and logistics. Anytime you move, you have a new set of problems. We’re digging into that.
“The biggest issues are traffic flow after the parade and traffic flow in general,” Egli added. “We will want to close off Cherry from Manbrin to the south end of the Lions Club property. That’s a well traveled road and it will be closed from Wednesday to Sunday. It’s going to be a little bit of a challenge.”