Interest grows in McHenry County festivals, theaters, wedding venues as restrictions ease

Event organizers of all kinds reacted optimistically to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions in recent months and the vaccination campaign.

The annual fundraiser for the Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association normally draws about 525 people each November to the event space at the Holiday Inn on Route 31 in Crystal Lake, an event capped with a fashion show modeled by the people with disabilities the organization serves.

Last year, it was held fully virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Jim Wiseman, the association’s executive director, said plans are already in place to make it an in-person gathering at the hotel this fall, and he hopes at least 300 people will be able to attend, if not 500.

“We may be back to where we can do 100% capacity. There may be some guidelines about masks still,” Wiseman said. “It’s just such a great event. We understood having to do virtual and we did the best we could with what we could, but getting back to in-person generates excitement in the community about who NISRA is and what we do.”

More weddings are also in the works for the ELARA Convention Center at the Holiday Inn Crystal Lake for the last six months of the year, said Eric Yarolimek, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.

People who may have been looking to have 225 wedding guests pre-pandemic are now feeling comfortable with hosting up to 100 in a few months, he said. Some other nonprofits and fundraisers are also on track to use the space.

“There is a lot of activity. Once this vaccination started rolling out is when we really began seeing the phone start ringing again and people have the confidence to go out and book something for the back half of the year,” Yarolimek said.

The state will move into a bridge phase once 70% of seniors have received at least one shot of vaccine, and outdoor festivals and spectator events will allow 30 people per 1,000 square feet, twice as many as in Phase 4, with 60% capacity in museums, theaters, performing arts centers, and ticketed and seated spectator events.

As the distribution of shots continues and widens, event organizers are growing more bullish on the rest of the year.

So far, only one wedding at the Concord Center north of Woodstock – originally planned for last year and rescheduled to this year because of COVID-19 – has canceled their new 2021 date, manager Catherine Forrest said. Most of the rescheduled weddings have outdoor ceremonies.

“This is what I see. You might have a bride and groom and their parents who are ready to move forward, but a lot of it depends on when they reach out to guests, whether the guests are ready to move forward. That has to be their choice,” Forrest said. “I feel they should go ahead with their wedding. They can’t accommodate everybody.”

The Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake is expecting at least part of this year to look fairly normal, too.

“We at the Raue Center are going to take a measured approach for the summer. We’re still going to have occupancy limits at least from a budgetary standpoint that we’re relatively lower than our full occupancy of 750 people,” CEO Rick Kuranda said.

He hopes to be able to have 200 to 300 people for indoor shows this summer. The center is also planning outdoor events for the summer, he said, adding he is unable to disclose what they are right now.

“We’re really looking forward to growth in the fall and winter months,” he said.

The organizers of Founders’ Days in Algonquin are also planning on taking advantage of the [opportunity] granted to outdoor festivals by the bridge phase.

A festival that includes a parade and live music in Spella Park is being planned for the last weekend in July, said Sue Bazdor, the secretary for the Founders’ Day Committee. Last year’s was canceled, and leaders of the committee are working on getting the exact square footage of the park from the village so they know the maximum number of people they can admit.

There will be no bake-off this year, Bazdor said, and it is unknown whether other activities like bouncy houses and rides will be a part of this year’s festival due to potential public health restrictions in place at the time. Holding a fireworks show is up in the air this year because of committee finances, Bazdor said.

“The way it looks now is it sounds like we’re going to have a full festival, just with people having to wear masks. That’s what we’re hoping for,” she said.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.