Future of festival remains unclear

by: TIMES PHOTO': JONATHAN HOUSE - Erin Carmona gets into the spirit of the Tualatin Crawfish Festival on Friday night. The Chamber of Commerce is looking for someone to take over the 65th-year-old festival. If a sponsor isn't found, this could be the last Crawfish Festival the city has.At the 63rd annual Crawfish Festival, attendees marked Tualatin’s 100th year as a city with birthday cake in the park and a fireworks display.

But there was an unspoken concern that the Tualatin tradition truly was pulling out all the stops, and going out with a bang. Would this be the Crawfish Festival’s final year?

On July 18, the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce announced that after 25 years, it would no longer be responsible for organizing the festival, and that it sought to “pass on the oven mitts and boiling pot” to a third party — should one present itself.

Chamber Chief Executive Officer Linda Moholt said she is not concerned about the next generation of the Crawfish Festival.

“We’ve had several groups approach us,” she said, including various individuals and event planners, although she declined to identify any of the interested parties.

In light of declining community involvement, she sees the festival taking on a community-wide, collaborative element.

“It’s looking like this is the absolute thing that would allow much more community involvement,” Moholt said, “so it really becomes all of us putting it on.”

For the chamber, it’s been a quarter-century of branding the festivities, brainstorming themes, booking live performers, sorting the details of crawfish boils, eating contests and cook-offs, arranging vendor contracts — all in addition to securing event liability insurance, which according to Moholt would sometimes run as high as $4,200. In addition, the event routinely costs the chamber upwards of 1,100 hours each year.

“Honestly, it does take a whole year,” Moholt said of the planning. “In the beginning, it’s working on the concept and the theme and marketing. We start meeting maybe every three to four weeks, and then as we get closer, the last couple months are pretty intense. But it takes a ton of volunteers, even with the planning and all of that, it also takes over 100 volunteers to do it. It’s a big deal.”

It is not a project the city is eager to take on, either.

“These tend to work better when they’re not a municipality-driven event, to the extent you get more parties involved,” Mayor Lou Ogden said.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jasmine, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel owned by Kerri Geerdes of Garden Home, walks by children in the Best Theme category of the Atsa My Dawg Show.He added that the city has already been involved extensively with the festival, providing police and park services. “I don’t know if it’s the right role for the city to ‘run it.’”

That the Chamber would hand off the reins came as little surprise to Ogden.

“I’ve been on the chamber board for more than 20 years,” he said. “Several times over the years, the Chamber’s board says, ‘Is this something we should be doing?’ Over the last three or four years, the Chamber has directed itself to be less involved in social and activity-driven events, and they’re directing themselves toward adding more membership.”

He said regardless of who took the festival over, the city expects to remain involved, mainly by aiding in sponsorships.

Such large-scale outdoor festivals rarely turn a profit, as Dave Nicoli, president of Tigard’s Festival of the Balloons, will attest. He said he was approached by the chamber and asked to take over the planning of the Crawfish Festival in coming years. He has yet to decide whether he will accept.

“There’s the situation that, for anybody to take it over and run it, they’ve got to do it as a labor of love,” Ogden agreed.

Mindy Woodard of Class Act Events has worked on the festival for the past seven years, and described the level of involvement that goes into the planning and execution of the Crawfish Festival.

She declined to comment whether she was the “private event planner” Moholt hinted was interested in taking over the two-day event, but she did confirm the Crawfish Festival is a year-long project.

“It’s a lot of moving pieces,” she explained. “When it’s in the community like this, there’s a lot of people you’re trying to make happy that might not have the same interests.”

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She explained that she had an assistant assigned solely to working with vendors participating in the festival, but said that in recent years, the chamber had taken over managing public relations around the event.

Last Saturday during the festival, Woodard said she had a staff of 10 people working with her to ensure all activities associated with the festival went smoothly.

“Every event that you would see happening, there was a Class Act staff person,” she said. “All of those things have somebody assigned.”

Despite the logistic and financial demands associated with the festival, the chamber and the city claim optimism.

“It absolutely, positively will not be the last year of this festival,” Moholt said.

“It’s not so much an identity event, as it is a worthwhile event,” Ogden said. “We’ve got a tradition going. I don’t think there’s any expectation that we won’t continue. I think there’s every expectation that it will continue on and continue to grow.”

“There’s just too much momentum there for anyone to not want to take it and continue on,” he added. “Somebody will do it, I’m sure.”

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