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WHEN THE CUSTOM EVENT came on board as operations manager of the Kenosha Days of Discovery festival in Kenosha, Wis., six months before the August event, they had some specific goals in mind, says Bonnie Hansen Rybicki, president of the Libertyville, Ill.-based company. In addition to raising money for the Kenosha Days environmental education program — which funds youth education in the region — the event was also designed to increase awareness and tourism by showcasing the city's newly renovated harbor-front area. “From an operations standpoint, [we wanted] to make it a really outstanding fest for Kenosha, something that really stood out for the area,” Rybicki says.

By the time The Custom Event became involved, the city had long since arranged for a visit by nine tall ships — including the HMS Bounty — which caused some concern about the number of people who would show up, as the ships are such a popular draw. This was compounded by the fact that as this was the first time the festival had been held, no one had any idea how many people planned to attend. The event team addressed the problem by “creating scenarios to help community task force members see the potential scope of the event,” and coordinating with emergency services personnel, Rybicki notes.

Because this was also the first time the festival — or indeed any event of this size — was held at the new harbor-front park, the team faced the challenge of figuring out where underground utilities such as irrigation and power sources were hidden before erecting any tents. This was solved by working through many logistical issues of the space with the city, Rybicki says, which required “good coordination, communication and detailed pre-event planning.”

The residents of Kenosha also contributed to the success of the event by getting involved, with some 500 people volunteering to staff every aspect of the festival, from working at ticket stands and food booths to ensuring that the crew of the tall ships had everything they needed. “The volunteers really did a good job, because there was a lot of community pride involved,” Rybicki notes.

In the end, the thorough planning ensured that everything went smoothly when 60,000 visitors — more than twice the number projected — attended the four-day festival, raising some $75,000 in the process, Rybicki says. “Everyone really put a lot of effort into it — this was a test event to see how something like this would work in this area, and I think it was very successful.”

The Custom Event 164 W. Austin Ave., Libertyville, IL 60048; 847/362-3830;

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