Jeff Jardine

X-Fest at the crossroads in downtown Modesto?

For as long as I’ve been in Modesto, people have talked about the inferiority complex of its residents, particularly whenever a new sucky cities list comes out and Modesto is on it.

More than the dissing from East Coast publications, though, they bemoan that so many young people leave to go off to college, then seek careers elsewhere because the region doesn’t provide either the job opportunities or the social elements that would bring them back home with degrees in hand. They say there’s nothing to do here unless you like Christmas, Fourth of July and Veterans Day parades. And when something does become popular, eventually someone will step forward to oppose it.

Such is the case with the Xclamation Festival, more commonly known as X-Fest. Each summer since 1999, promoter Chris Ricci has transformed downtown Modesto into a multistage music mecca. The city grants his permit on a year-by-year basis. A couple of weeks ago, the management of Galletto Ristorante asked the city to move the event out of downtown, claiming support from numerous other downtown business that want to expel the event, as well.

The 2015 single-day event drew a crowd of 17,000 who spent $1.76 million in the city. The event some downtown businesses want to close draws a different demographic than what normally constitutes their usual clientele. Several restaurant owners told The Modesto Bee their business increases significantly during X-Fest. Modesto police, meanwhile, said the event taxes their staffing resources.

Ultimately, the city must decide whether X-Fest’s benefits outweigh the detriments, or whether it must change in size and scope to continue. Adam Lindgren, the city’s attorney, said city staff members were instructed to develop a report that took all things into consideration. Ricci said the event belongs downtown, period. The council will decide whether to renew or deny the permit.

This episode follows a pattern in Modesto that developed over decades of developing events, only to see them come under greater scrutiny.

Some of it is self-inflicted. Some of it stemmed from people coming in from other cities. Police had to shut down the cruise in 1994 because of violence including fatal shootings involving out-of-towners. The North Modesto Kiwanis resurrected it in 2002 with what evolved into Graffiti Summer.

Some folks decried the 1996 renovation of John Thurman Field, where the Modesto Nuts play baseball. They didn’t want taxpayer money spent on the stadium. It was rebuilt not by the political will of city officials but only because then-club owner Fred Anderson refused to accept “no” for an answer. Consequently, the stadium continues to be a place where families can enjoy all that comes with minor league baseball, and it’s difficult to imagine Modesto without a team.

The downtown nightclub scene that boomed a decade ago is now quiet by comparison, in no small part due to troubles that arose from partyers who came in from as far away as Fresno and the Bay Area.

In August 2014, the city hosted four days of go-kart racing that closed off the downtown area. Afterward, only two restaurants filed claims for their businesses losses, Galletto among them. The restaurant received a $7,500 settlement for its troubles. Meanwhile, Mark Smallwood of Harvest Moon claimed $5,000 in losses over the four days but received only $500. The event was a financial dud on all fronts and did not return in 2015.

Amgen’s Tour of California came to Modesto for four straight years, then went elsewhere. Hoping to lure the race back, the city committed $75,000 from its general fund to house and feed crews even though this year’s competition doesn’t pass through Modesto. City officials claim they intend to replace the $75,000 through fundraising efforts. But that’s like dropping cash at Black Oak Casino and then starting a GoFundMe account asking folks to help you recoup your losses.

Now, it is X-Fest’s turn at the crossroads. Will it survive the challenge? Will Ricci tweak the format to appease his detractors? Do Galletto and other businesses make a strong case for booting it from downtown?

For sure, there’s never been anything like it and likely won’t be again if the promoter and the city can’t work through the issues. One of Modesto’s few big annual events that draws the younger demographic could vanish.

And if that happens, cut another notch on Modesto’s list.

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