PantegoFest moves to different weekend, venue for 2014

Posted Monday, Aug. 18, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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New city manager

After working 16 years for Houston-area cities — and serving a year in Iraq as an Army Reserve officer — Matthew Fielder was ready to come home when he applied for the vacant position of Pantego city manager.

The Martin High School graduate, who started his job on Jan. 27, earned his bachelor’s in government from UT Austin. But he returned home to pursue a master’s degree in public administration at UT Arlington.

Then he left for a job at Sugar Land, on U.S. 59 southwest of Houston.

“When I started economic development in Sugar Land, it was a fast-growing suburb, with a lot of projects happening,” Fielder said. “The neat thing about city government is you get to build something and you always get to look back and say, ‘I did that.’ 

The Pantego City Council wants him to have many such memories of Pantego.

“We wanted someone who had a strong economic development background,” said Councilman Don Surratt, noting that the city manager also serves as executive director of the Pantego Economic Development Corp. “That was his strong suit.”

Surratt said it didn’t hurt that Fielder also hails from the area. “He’s a local Arlington boy; he grew up around here and he knows the community some. He was wanting to come back to this area. It was a pretty good fit.”

During his tenure at Sugar Land, Fielder was deployed to Iraq shortly after the U.S invasion in 2003. His Reserve unit searched for weapons of mass destruction. During his 366 days there, he said, he was struck by the challenges of Iraqi society.

“I expected it to be more modern,” said Fielder, who left the Reserves in 2005. “I was shocked at how primitive most of it was.”

He returned to Sugar Land, and after a total of nine years there, he moved farther down U.S. 59 to Rosenburg to take the position of economic development director. He served six years in Rosenburg.

Pantego’s previous city manager was Sean Fox, who left last year at the end of his contract, Surratt said. Thomas Griffith, chief of public safety, filled in as interim city manager for several months before Fielder arrived.

Fielder is married and has three sons.

— Robert Cadwallader

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After suffering bad weather, sparse attendance and complaints from some merchants during the first two events, PantegoFest 2014 is making some big changes.

First, taking a gamble on better weather, the three-day festival of music, arts, crafts and food has been moved up a weekend earlier, to Sept. 26-28.

“Someone even consulted the Farmers’ Almanac and said, yes, that looks like a good weekend,” said April Coltharp, an event planner contracted by the city to organize the festival makeover.

Also new — admission will be free, and a Terlingua-qualifier chili cook-off, benefiting the Pantego Lions Club, has been added to the repertoire.

And this time the town won’t shut down a section of Park Row Drive for the activities, which instead will be concentrated in the parking lot of the Park Row West shopping center, 2229 W. Park Row Drive. Although blocking off traffic originally seemed like good way to foster a more festivallike atmosphere, it ended up frustrating some Park Row businesses.

“One of the purposes of the festival is to show people what businesses have to offer,” Coltharp said. “But with the street shut down, it was hard to show what businesses were available in that area.”

The town took its first step toward its revamp by turning over the planning and managing to Coltharp and her business, Flair Events, said City Manager Matthew Fielder.

“In the past, the city staff organized it,” Fielder said. “We thought it would be better to have someone with special expertise come in. It’s just not what we do.”

PantegoFest is still built around a wide variety of live music performances on the stage, starting with a stage-opening ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday. The headline acts are LeFreak on that Friday night and Incognito Saturday night, and Me and My Monkey closes the festival with a 4:30 p.m. Sunday performance.

Early risers can participate in a mile fun run or a 5K race Saturday.

Other activities include a pie cook-off followed by a pie-eating contest, and a pet parade along with a simultaneous performance of veterinarian Jim Turner, owner of nearby Farrell Animal Hospital, along with his band, Uptown Drifters, Coltharp said.

She said the festival attracted about 30 vendors last year, and she’s working to expand that to 50 to 75 vendors. “We’re getting there,” she said.

The inaugural PantegoFest was marred by chilly temperatures and light rain, said Councilman Don Surratt. “The second year, we had rain that moved in at midday and rained out our Saturday night.” With the schedule change, he said, “We hoped we could outrun the rain.”

Coltharp said the town needs a healthy festival to serve its overriding purpose — “to bring an identity to Pantego,” she said. “A lot of people don’t even realize it when they’re driving through Pantego. They just think they’re in another section of Arlington.”

Applications for vendors are available at www.pantegofest.com, which also has a schedule of events and volunteer opportunities. 

Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641 Twitter: @Kaddmann

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