BIDDEFORD – Biddeford’s annual celebration of its Franco-American heritage has been rescued — at least for the time being.
Organizers of La Kermesse, which is heading into its 28th year, announced Monday that the festival will not have to be canceled, but it will be moved from its traditional home at St. Louis Field to the Biddeford Arena and Expo Center on Route 111.
The move to the enclosed ice arena means the festival will have to be scaled back from four days to two. In past years, La Kermesse has attracted more than 25,000 people.
Paul Gagne, treasurer for La Kermesse Franco-Americaine de Biddeford, the nonprofit organization that runs the event, said the new-look festival will have no parade, no block party and no fireworks, unless someone steps up to pay for them.
Gagne said the good news is that the festival will be held indoors. The tentative dates are June 25-26.
“I like to call it a reunion for the people of Biddeford. This is a festival to celebrate our French heritage,” Gagne said.
He said his organization still needs to raise $8,000 to $10,000 to stage the festival at the arena. “It may be smaller, but we are not going to miss a beat,” he said.
The festival ran into trouble with the city last summer after a rainstorm turned St. Louis Field to mud. The combination of heavy rain, trucks, equipment and carnival rides caused $25,000 in damage to the field, which is used by a variety of sports teams.
The city says it is owed $25,000 by La Kermesse. Gagne said the damage is not his organization’s fault and it doesn’t have enough money to repay the city.
Mayor Joanne Twomey said the city will not allow the festival to be held at St. Louis Field. “It wasn’t the damage to the field as much as it was the displacement of 400 kids who had no place to play sports,” Twomey said.
Twomey said she and others in the city believe La Kermesse had become too commercial, putting more emphasis on carnival rides and admission fees than on French culture.
She would like to see the festival held downtown. If that were to happen, merchants would raise enough money to pay for fireworks, Twomey said.
The disagreement between the city and La Kermesse troubles Jim Plamondon, whose father, Joseph, founded La Kermesse in 1982. The younger Plamondon was the festival’s president for eight years.
Plamondon has met with both sides. He believes a long-term solution can be found. In the meantime, the ice rink should be a good temporary home, he said.
He likes the fact that the festival’s directors have shown a willingness to scale back the festival.
Plamondon said there has been discussion about staging a parade downtown on Friday night to kick off this year’s La Kermesse festival.
“To me, La Kermesse is not a field. La Kermesse can be held anywhere,” Plamondon said.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]