After losing its contract with the city, EventZone may move Festival in the Park and the St. Patrick’s Day parade elsewhere, according to director
By Tad Dickens | 777-6474
Changes are ahead for several of Roanoke’s major festival events, after Downtown Roanoke Inc. late last week won the city’s contract to produce and/or coordinate such events as Festival in the Park, the Big Lick Blues Festival and the Celtic Festival.
But as of Monday afternoon, it still was not clear exactly what those changes would be.
EventZone, which had retained the contract ever since its formation in 2003, says it will still produce Festival in the Park, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celtic Festival, Party in the Park, Big Lick Blues festival and the Cabin Fever Series. Its new executive director, Jill Sluss, said that her organization has all of those event names trademarked.
But Downtown Roanoke Inc. says it will produce Party in the Park, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celtic Festival and Big Lick Blues, while providing “production support” for Festival in the Park and the Cabin Fever Series.
That sets up what could be a turf war between the old contractor and the new. But in a Monday news release, EventZone floated the possibility that it will move its festivities elsewhere.
Elmwood Park, the venue for Festival in the Park, Big Lick Blues and other events, is undergoing a $4.7 million renovation that began last month and was expected to last for a year. The city has other facilities, including the Reserve Avenue fields, for such events.
“With the temporary closing of Elmwood Park, we have been concerned about adequate facilities for our signature events,” EventZone’s new executive director, Jill Sluss, said in the news release. “This decision opens the door to endless possibilities for partnering with other localities. We are excited at the enormous opportunity this presents.
“EventZone will continue to produce quality well-known events such as Festival in the Park, the Cabin Fever Series, and Party in the Park. [Sic] The only change being exciting new venues capable of hosting our unique events.”
And that change could well extend beyond the year that Elmwood is under reconstruction.
EventZone will “absolutely” consider moving all of them elsewhere, Sluss said in a phone call late Friday afternoon.
“We’re no longer bound to keep the events in Roanoke City,” she said. “We can now hold them in the Roanoke Valley.”
DRI, EventZone and city officials are scheduled to have their first transitional meeting on Thursday, said Brian Townsend, Roanoke’s assistant city manager for community development.
“I’d hate to think we’d have dueling St. Patrick’s Day parades,” Townsend said. “But we have four Christmas parades in the valley. I hope it doesn’t get to that.”
But if EventZone takes its events elsewhere, Downtown Roanoke Inc. will still be putting on, say, a Memorial Day weekend event where Festival in the Park had been. It will just have a different name.
And if EventZone decides to keep its events on city property, it will have to work with DRI, he said.
Downtown Roanoke Inc., in existence in town for more than 50 years, is a nonprofit organization focused on economic development downtown. In September, it responded to the city’s request for proposal to handle what the city listed as public event planning/promotion, event management services and third party event facilitation services (see the city’s request via tinyurl.com/blf6otf).
It was the first time that an organization other than EventZone had submitted a competing proposal since EventZone’s 2003 creation, even though the city must by law occasionally post such requests, Townsend, said.
EventZone formed in 2003, consolidating the office that ran Festival in the Park with the old Roanoke Special Events Committee. Festival in the Park had for about three decades prior been an independent entity.
EventZone in July was one of 19 organizations to receive Taubman Foundation Sustainability Grants, which philanthropists Nick and Jenny Taubman created last year to help stabilize arts and culture nonprofits in the Roanoke region. EventZone received $100,000 for debt payment and fundraising.
EventZone has two full-time and three part-time employees, plus “more than 700 volunteers” for its events, Sluss said.
DRI lists five employees on its website.
On Monday, Townsend said city staff, after reviewing the competing proposals and interviewing representatives of both groups, decided that DRI was better positioned to “market under one umbrella” both downtown itself and the events happening there.
Sluss had been EventZone’s interim director since former executive director Larry Landolt resigned in late August. She said that, effective Monday, she is now the organization’s full-time director.
Sluss wrote that those in the organization were “disappointed,” but that they would continue on.
“We will now focus our attention on creating new events or partnering with other organizations to share our expertise in event planning, marketing and execution,” she wrote.
In an e-mail exchange, Downtown Roanoke Inc. spokesman Matthew Klepeisz wrote that the organization “has a strong and successful history of partnering with the City of Roanoke to make the downtown district the preferred place to live, work, and play. We’re pleased for the opportunity to grow this partnership by managing special events services and enhancing the downtown experience for our residents and visitors alike.”
See earlier posts on this subject below the jump: