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Local idea-makers make pitch for $10K in grants

Judge John Sievers, a Rochester musician, second from left, asks Nick Novotny a question about his pitch for the Rochester Thaw Music Festival as fellow judges, from left, Chris Fierst of Bar Buffalo and The Half Barrel, William Forsman of Café Steam, and Naura Anderson of Threshold Arts, look on during the Start-Up Event Grant Pitch Night hosted by Rochester Downtown Alliance Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, at Discovery Square in downtown Rochester. Event organizers were pitching their ideas in hopes of winning up to three thousand dollars in grant funds. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Nine contenders competed for portions of $10,000 in Rochester Downtown Alliance grant money, giving a panel of judges a tough job.

In the end, an event showcasing Southeast Minnesota farmers won one of the startup grants offered at the RDA's Start-Up Event Grant Pitch Night event, Tuesday at One Discovery Square.

Part of that $10,000 offered by RDA, a $3,000 grant, goes to the Friends of the Rochester Farmers Market, which will use the money to make a planned harvest dinner a reality in 2020.

Kristin Pearson, of Pearson Organics farm, pitched the idea during Tuesday's public event.

Pearson said the downtown farmers market sees foot traffic of 3,000 people per week, bringing "the country downtown."


The farmers market’s partner agency, Friends of the Farmers Market, envisions a feast rounding up produce from local vendors and growers and beer and wine from local producers.

"We want to showcase why (Southeast Minnesota) is so special," Pearson told a panel of four judges and the crowd.

She said the grant opportunity gave her and the organization the "impetus to put pencil to paper" in planning the event.

Pearson represented one of nine organizations pitching their events in the contest.

One of the judges, Will Forsman, owner of Cafe Steam, told the presenters before announcing the winners that their plans had made the judges’ jobs difficult.

The farmers market was not the only winner.

Another first-time event and $3,000 prize went to a planned "Upbeat Burrito" festival.

Meghan Southwick pitched the idea and started her presentation with a gift of burritos to the judges.


She told the panel the street festival event will showcase area burritos, funk and disco music and dancing. Southwick said the event will give participating downtown restaurants a chance to show their best burrito-making skills – even if burritos aren’t normally on the menu.

"It creates a chance for bars and restaurants to create something they’ve never done before," she said.

Naura Anderson, one of the panel judges, denied the burrito gift swayed her vote — but that the promise of the event itself did.

"I support the event because it sounds like something I would want to attend," she said.

Southwick said she was inspired to develop her idea by similar events in other cities — and by a bit of imagination.

"I have a lot of random ideas," she said.

The Rochester Thaw music festival received $2,150 in funding. The second-year festival is growing from seven bands on one stage last year to a lineup of 11 this year on two stages.

"We are here, and we are expanding out," said festival founder Nick Novotny.


The downtown Neighborhood Association received $500 for a "Live Downtown" event showcasing new and historic downtown living spaces. That event will show people what living spaces look like in the downtown neighborhood, presenters said.

Ben Getano pitched a March 13 concert and album release party. He received $850 in funding and a pledge from Chris Fierst to supply a bartender and to furnish a craft cocktail bar.

Rockchester and the Friends of the Rochester Farmers Market tied in a people’s choice vote. Each will receive $500 and $250 donations from Majestic Tents & Events.

Karli McElroy, senior director of placemaking, said all the pitches were solid ideas.

"The hard thing is, we just have the $10,000," she said. "I wish we could multiply that over however many projects apply."

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