The Times talks with community event sponsor Dave Nicoli to talk about what it takes to put on an event like the Tualatin Crawfish Festival

NicoliDave Nicoli has some advice for anyone thinking of taking over the Tualatin Crawfish Festival.

Make sure you have the full backing of the city, says the president of Tigard’s Festival of Balloons, and don’t expect to turn a profit.

In fact, he compares running a successful festival to running a business — at a loss.

“When I do the Tigard Balloon Festival, the whole key there is I know I’m not going to make any money on it,” Nicoli said. “I’m going to have to actually contribute money to it. I have to go with that understanding.”

Nicoli, who has owned Tualatin-based shoring and piling solutions firm DP Nicoli, Inc., for the past 30 years, decided to add “festival organizer” to his resume when the event became too big for the city of Tigard.

“I grew up in Tigard, and I still have connections in Tigard,” he explained. “I took it on because it was my way to give back to the community.”

He has a part-time employee working on festival logistics year-round.

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Increasingly, he says, cities decline to put on festivals because of the time and liability — it’s a simple matter of risk management.

“It used to be the cities did (festival organization), and now over the years, they’ve passed it off,” he said. He sees the same happening in Tualatin, where the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce announced it would no longer be planning and overseeing the festival, as it had for the past 25 years. On July 18, the chamber announced that it was seeking a new organizer, or perhaps a network of organizers, to continue the festival tradition.

Nicoli was not optimistic that the Crawfish Festival would continue.

“You have to have some kind of volunteer organization that’s willing to take it on and not expect to make any money,” he said. “It’s very hard, because somebody might be willing to take it on for two or three years, but very few would be willing to take it on for year after year after year, unless you’re big enough to be like the Rose Festival, which has got a paid staff.”

It is an issue he has been trying to address in Tigard, where his goal has been to make the Festival of Balloons self-sufficient by establishing a trust on the side, should he decide he is no longer willing or able to organize the event in the future.

“If the (Tualatin) Chamber of Commerce — which is to me the most practical group to do it — doesn’t have the income to do it, then the Crawfish Festival becomes something that somebody has to step up to, and I just don’t see it happening,” he added.

Nicoli said the Chamber had approached him to see if he was interested in organizing the Crawfish Festival himself.

“Would I consider it? Yeah, but from a practical standpoint, I’m not willing to take on another project where I have to subsidize it,” he said. “And I just don’t see any other way I could do it. There’s not enough money to make any money. I subsidize (the Festival of Balloons) by putting an employee on it every year.”

But Nicoli does have a few ideas on how to improve the iconic event.

“I would want to add things to make (the festival) more vibrant, to keep people down there longer,” Nicoli said. “There’s part of that park on the west side that’s not used at all. Once you get down there, and you’ve walked through the booths, unless you’re going to listen to some music, there’s not much more to do.” One suggestion? Add a carnival, he said.

Still, he cautions would-be organizers from making the festival something it’s not.

“It’s always been a crawfish festival,” he said. “You’re not trying to build a business. One thing I’ve learned about these events is, don’t make them bigger than they need to be.”

It is a festival Nicoli feels is worth saving, which will put him in a difficult position should no other organizer step up.

“I’m thinking about it, but I’m not excited about it,” he said.

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