Fun events seen as quality-of-life issues

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Editorial: June 27, 2013

ISSUE: City event planners
OUR VIEW: Festivals deserve resources

If city of Elizabethtown officials had not decided to take on event planning early in 2012, area residents, visitors and businesses might not have Heartland Festival in the Park and Cruisin’ the Heartland to enjoy.

At that time, the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce refocused its efforts on initiatives that had more direct impact on its members, vacating management of the festivals. Both events were created by former chamber directors.

The city, working with tourism officials, created an events program and hired an events coordinator. That employee has been responsible for the existing festivals, establishing the Founders Day celebration on the Fourth of July and handling other events.

Another Hardin County city, Vine Grove, also leans on a designated event coordinator who oversees multiple events including an annual bluegrass festival, Mayberry Days, Autumn Daze and the Dickens-themed Christmas celebration.

In Radcliff, Councilman Jacob Pearman pushed the council at a recent meeting to consider hiring an events coordinator.

An events coordinator would help, Mayor J.J. Duvall said, but it’s not affordable. With a salary of $40,000, for example, the position would cost the city $61,000 per year after other expenses including benefits. With an expected hike in employee health care costs later this year, it’s not a realistic expenditure, he said.

Radcliff’s third annual Summer Blast, highlighted by a concert by David Lee Murphy, is Friday and Saturday. Coordinating that event and others is up to city administrators, including Duvall.

Do we want local government organizing community events? Yes, we do.

For one thing, it’s a quality-of-life issue, not unlike services provided by parks and recreation departments.

Also, voters have responded to promises of community events. The late Elizabethtown Mayor Tim Walker talked about pumping up community events during his race for mayor. Similar plans were part of Duvall’s campaign platform. And in 2006, Kenny Lewis was the only newcomer elected to Elizabethtown City Council after he made summer concerts at Freeman Lake Park a key campaign talking point.

But do we need designated city employees to run these events? Yes, but only if we can afford them.

Often, these programs are investments. Consider the thousands of out-of-towners drawn to Cruisin’ the Heartland and the economic development brought with them.

Of course, not all events are meant to be economic stimulus projects. But whether it’s a money maker or just a service to residents, festivals have value. Dedicating someone to optimize community events is worth exploring at least.

And if the budget bucks hiring a full-time employee, there are other options.

Contracting services is one route, though it would be careless to ignore that most successful events are built by passionate people with strong community connections. Those sorts of folks still need to be involved.

Pooling resources is another avenue worth exploring. Even if it is preferred that events be branded with a particular city or community, there still are many ways to collaborate and likely build better events. Cities should work together to avoid duplicate themes or overcrowding the countywide calendar. And on a larger scale, cities might coordinate joint events.

There’s a lot to say about festivals and similar events in Hardin County, but two things never change.

First, it’s about the crowd.

Some events have lost their appeal, drawing smaller crowds as other relatively new events have become smash hits. Consider the immediate triumph of BBQ, Blues and Bikes, which was not officially hosted by a governmental entity. The new festival drew 20,000 to 25,000 to downtown Elizabethtown in May. Others events have been revived or retooled and are drawing respectable crowds.

Some festivals, especially in Hardin County’s smaller, unincorporated communities, remain the reunion sort. The other attendees, neighbors from the present and long ago, are as great an attraction as the music or the games. Glendale’s Crossing Festival and Cecilia Days have grown beyond that homecoming size but still maintain elements unique to their quaint communities.

In the end, an event is measured by the answer to one question. Did people show up?

The other constant is volunteers. While the conversation lately has turned to who will oversee an event, volunteers remain essential. Many events, including the Hardin County Community Fair, set for July 8-13, are all-volunteer operations. From building the big idea to parking cars and cleaning up the mess, volunteers plan an enormous role in any community event. Festivals aren’t affordable, or even practical, without them. 

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.