Taste of Lone Tree’s future uncertain

Problem-plagued 2013 event leaves some ticket-holders and vendors bitter

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After an event one vendor called "a black mark on the city" that left many participants vowing never to return, the Taste of Lone Tree’s future is uncertain.

The 6th annual event, held Aug. 10 and 11, was plagued by rain, food and alcohol shortages, decreased vendor participation and an apparent shortage of volunteers.

Board members for the Lone Tree Chamber of Commerce, the event’s organizer, asked recently hired executive director Linda Harmon not to comment, and instead issued a three-paragraph statement Aug. 15.

“We are disappointed that the event did not uphold the high standards many have come to expect when attending and we apologize for your frustrations,” the statement read. “A Taste of Lone Tree needs to reflect positively on the City of Lone Tree and its many offerings.”

The chamber plans to hold a debriefing on the event in the next couple of weeks, board member Donna Russell said.

The event’s future, “is certainly one of the questions we will be discussing,” she said, adding the chamber welcomes participation in the as-yet unscheduled discussion.

Visitors complained about a variety of issues, including a lack of tables, seating and vendors, changes in the ticket prices, sample sizes and a fenced-off VIP area some found lackluster.

Mother Nature inflicted the harshest blow to the event. A Saturday night rainstorm that left the Lincoln Commons grounds muddy prompted organizers to delay Sunday’s opening an hour. As volunteers scrambled to spread mulch, hundreds gathered in the parking area near the front gate — most of them too far from the entrance to see signs explaining the delay.

Lone Tree Brewing Company co-owner John Winter said his employees were given poor information on numerous points, including anticipated turnout. By mid-afternoon Saturday, the brewery was tapped out of the beer it had planned for both days, with no ability to get more until Sunday.

“I really don’t ever want to see our city, our community, subject to this type of mess again,” Winter said. “This was such a black mark on the community, I’m truly embarrassed. Unfortunately, most people see the Taste of Lone Tree as a reflection upon the city. People expected a nice event. It didn’t turn out that way.”

Frustrated as he is, Winter said he would be there for a 2014 Taste of Lone Tree.

“This is our back yard and I’m not going to abandon it,” he said. “We need to be a standup community that makes it right. If this is to continue, we can’t have a duplication of this in any way, shape or form.”

Lone Tree City Councilmember Susan Squyer, a volunteer at this year’s event who co-organized a previous Taste, said volunteers worked frantically to try to meet demands.

“I don’t have answers or know what was really happening at all,” she said. “I know there were a lot of disappointed customers.”

That aside, Squyer wants the Taste to continue.

“It’s been a signature event for Lone Tree,” she said. “But I would say that was probably a more accurate statement before this last weekend.”

Vendors said turnout, estimated at 8,000 to 10,000 over two days, was a bright spot in the event.

“It was probably the biggest one we’ve seen,” said Brio general manager Mark Lausman. “I think what happened was that the crowds were bigger than people thought.”

“Overall, it was pretty good exposure,” said La Sandia’s Matthew Swigart. “I was a little upset it wasn’t more organized. People I talked to were upset there weren’t more restaurants.

“We’ve done it the last six years, but we’re probably not going to do it next year. It’s just getting worse every year.”

To participate in the debriefing, call Russell at 720-363-5578.