Big Changes Coming to Mississauga Ribfest

While it’s only March and there is still ample evidence of snow (and very chilly air), it’s only a matter of time before the annual Mississauga Rotary Ribfest graces us with its presence once again—not to mention those mouth watering ribs.

But this year, there’s going to be change in venue, according to Ribfest organizers. Gordon West, the past chair of Ribfest, and coordinator Natalie Hart, came before Mississauga City Council this week to announce that the annual event would be moving from Celebration Square to Port Credit Memorial Park.

Ribfest organizers Gordon West and Natalie Hart speaking before council

The Rotary Club of Mississauga and The Rotary Club of Mississauga West are excited about the upcoming Mississauga Rotary Ribfest move to the stunning waterfront at Memorial Park. We look forward to bringing this long standing successful fundraiser to the Port Credit area and being part of that vibrant community. We are committed to providing a green event that contributes locally and attracts tourism to the area. I can’t wait to enjoy some music, food and fun while we raise money to support the many community groups in Mississauga that benefit from the event,” Hart said in a statement to insauga.

The Amacon Mississauga Rotary Ribfest has been happening for 14 years. For four days, diners get access to delicious ribs from rib trucks that come from across North America to serve people in Mississauga and beyond. Last year’s Ribfest drew in over 67,000 attendees and raised some $129,000. In 2016, Ribfest raised $150,000. Overall, some $1.1 million has been raised for charity from this event.

But having an event like Ribfest at Celebration Square comes with challenges, not least of which is parking, traffic and cleanup after hosting thousands of people.

There has also been some discomfort with blocking off Celebration Square—a public, taxpayer-supported space—and charging residents admission to attend.

In 2015, Mississauga city councillor John Kovac opposed Rotary’s request to fence off the Square during Ribfest and charging a $2 admission fee. Since expressing his concerns, Kovac and the rest of council had been looking at alternative locations for Ribfest.

The $2 admission was part of a two-year pilot program that has since concluded. After the pilot ended, some members of council showed little interest in continuing to charge admission to the Square.

The Paid Admission Pilot is now complete. Paid admission at Mississauga Celebration Square is not permitted as per the city’s Outdoor Events in the Civic District policy,” Paul Mitcham, commissioner of Community Services, said in a statement to back in February.

Following the general committee meeting on January 24, some councillors agreed to meet with Ribfest organizers to explore options for the event moving forward.”

Kovac told insauga he was pleased that Celebration Square will go back to being admission-free and open and always accessible to the public.

Since the conclusion of this two-year pilot, I have worked together with council and with Rotary to find an alternative location for Ribfest. It was determined that Memorial Park in Port Credit was the most suitable venue to relocate to, due to its larger size, open outdoor park space and potential for growth. I am pleased that all parties involved have been able to work together to find a new location for the festival,” Kovac said.

For all the benefits of Celebration Square in terms of the physical infrastructure as well as the convenience of cleaning up the artificial turf, the challenge of Ribfest at the Square was always parking and traffic. There are also limitations, as the area has little room to grow (hence why last year it was fenced off) when it comes to attracting new people. If the Hurontario LRT was currently in place running right now, then perhaps that public transit option would have allowed more people from Brampton and elsewhere to access Ribfest without driving.

But that’s not the current reality today.

Port Credit Memorial Park is adjacent to the Mississauga Library branch that has parking, and if you venture down to Port Credit enough you know where you can park your car—and I’m not just referring to the parking lot at the GO station. Speaking of the GO station, Ribfest attendees from as far as Burlington, Toronto and Scarborough can take the GO Lakeshore line train to come attend the Mississauga Ribfest.

Free shuttle bus services from City Hall to Port Credit would be available, as councillors said they would pay for it out of their expense accounts. Memorial Park has also hosted the Mississauga Waterfront Festival before, so there is evidence that food stalls and trucks can operate on the park in some capacity.

The irony that should be noted is that while people around Celebration Square now have their public space back, some people are raising concerns that the four-day Ribfest will close off Memorial Park as a public space. A Twitter user responded to an off-hand comment from one councillor about how Ribfest could boost development sales for Amacon if they take advantage of the marketing, which another councillor disputed as being the reason for the relocation:

Still, another Mississauga resident laments the fact that moving Ribfest to South Mississauga “further alienates the rest of the city from events.”

I guess when the long term goal for Mississauga Celebration Square is to make it a vibrant public space, taking big events away from there is not the way to go about doing that.

Do you think it was a good idea that Mississauga Ribfest moved to Port Credit?

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