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Organizers insist wizard festival will run better than last year; past attendees not convinced
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Organizers insist wizard festival will run better than last year; past attendees not convinced

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Harry Potter Festival

Twelve-year-olds Emersyn Lang, left, and Ally Stape, of Cottage Grove, have their picture taken by one of the girls' parents at a train station modeled after the "Harry Potter" stories at the 2016 Harry Potter Festival, which had been held in Edgerton. The festival has now been rebranded as the Warriors and Wizards Festival and will be held in Jefferson Friday through Sunday.

Tens of thousands of attendees are expected to converge on Jefferson Friday through Sunday for the Warriors and Wizards Festival — formerly the Harry Potter Festival — but past attendees and vendors remain skeptical that last year’s issues have been corrected.

The festival has attracted more visitors than expected in each of its previous years, and last year about 50,000 people came to the city of 8,000. While Jefferson officials called the festival a success because of its economic impact, many were frustrated by the quality of the festival, long lines and poor transportation.

“I think this year we’re trying to address all of those things from last year well in advance,” former spokesman Thomas Hopfensperger said.

Hopfensperger spoke with the State Journal Tuesday about the improvements to programming for this year but said on Friday that he no longer works with the festival.

Multiple attempts to reach the festival organizers, Robert and Scott Cramer, were unsuccessful.

Past attendees and vendors remain concerned about the festival despite organizers’ insistence that issues from last year have been smoothed out.

The festival originated in 2015 and was held in Edgerton for its first two years before moving to Jefferson last year.

Actor Sean Biggerstaff, who played Quidditch captain Oliver Wood in the Harry Potter movies, railed against organizer Scott Cramer in a series of tweets for “incompetence and dishonesty” when the actor had to cancel his appearance at the festival because the terms of his contract were breached.

“It would appear they have no money to pay contributors,” Biggerstaff said.

Adult festival attendees this year will pay $35 — $10 more than last year — per wristband, which works as the entry pass to each of the attractions for the festival, according to the festival website, warriorsandwizardsfestival.com. Children’s wristbands are $15. Hopfensperger said he did not have an up to date count on how many wristbands have been purchased in advance for this year, but said a majority of attendees last year bought their wristbands the weekend of the festival.

The website also advertises VIP passes costing $300.

Rebecca Thom, who attended the festival last year but said she won’t be going this year, administers a Facebook group page set up to share experiences from last year’s event.

The page refers to the festival as a scam.

Thom had brought her 10-year-old son to the festival last year only to find the exotic plants advertised were just “half-dead houseplants in a pop-up greenhouse” and the wizard’s prison was “just a tennis court covered with black garbage bags,” she said.

For the owl attraction, “we stood in line for 45 minutes only to learn the owls were stuffed owls and there were no real owls,” Thom said.

Thom said she and her son had read five of the seven “Harry Potter” books before the festival, and she said the worst part of the experience was returning home with her son who no longer cared about finishing the series.

“The disappointment on his face is hard to miss,” Thom said.

The Better Business Bureau also has received more than a dozen complaints for HP Fans Inc., the name of the business running the festival. The bureau posted an alert for an unanswered pattern of complaints that the event was not as advertised and was of poor quality.

The bureau states that it sent a certified letter on Oct. 26 of last year and sent a follow-up letter the next month after not receiving a reply.

As of December, the bureau had still not received a reply.

As a vendor last year Laura Dwyer, who sells handmade accessories for her business Adollydorables, said she would not return because she had been left out of the main vending location despite paying the same booth fee. Her booth was set up on its own by the food stands and bathrooms rather than along with the other rows of booths.

She said over the weekend, about 200 people visited her booth, compared to the thousands of people festival organizers had told her to be prepared for.

“The whole event was a nightmare, and I wish I could take it all back — all the time and money I lost,” Dwyer said.

She said she wouldn’t trust another event held by the festival organizers.

Many attendees last year said they felt cheated by the cost of wristbands because the wristbands hadn’t been regularly checked at entrance points and many people got in for free.

A new security firm has been hired to manage the entrances to the attractions to ensure that only paying attendees enter those areas, Hopfensperger said.

Transportation around the city also left attendees exasperated. Some reported waiting in line for more than an hour to make it onto a bus.

More buses will be running routes this year, and instead of the circular bus route, shuttle buses will now move between two locations each, Hopfensperger said. When arriving at each destination, all the passengers must exit the bus to allow for it to be fully reloaded with new passengers waiting in line. Hopfensperger said some people had used the shuttles as a sight-seeing tour last year.

Along with the logistical changes, the festival received a “gentle nudge” from lawyers with the Warner Bros. film studio to move away from the “Harry Potter” name, leading to the rebranding as Warriors and Wizards, Hopfensperger said.

Because of that rebranding, the festival this year will include activities and panels from a broader range of genres including fantasy and science fiction themes, Hopfensperger said. The goal is to encourage attendees to immerse themselves in their favorite stories, whether that’s spending time at attractions or coming dressed as their favorite movie or book character.

“It’s part costume play and that comic-con feel, and it’s all overlaid on top of what is really authentic small-town Wisconsin,” city administrator Timothy Freitag said.

With the purchase of wristbands, attendees can see various live bands, participate in augmented reality exhibits, run through a corn maze and view Harry Potter- and Star Wars-themed Lego displays, according to the festival’s website.

The Harry Potter sport Quidditch will still be played this year despite the name change. Hopfensperger said the Quidditch tournament, which will showcase teams playing from various universities around the Midwest, was not an issue with the legal team that contacted the organizers. Quidditch itself has become an internationally played sport where players run and throw balls down a field and through hoops to score points while holding broomsticks between their legs.

Some attractions that are run through third parties, such as the horse-drawn carriages, trackless train ride and the arcade, cost additional fees.

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