By Kevin Kelley
No resident would want to miss Fairview Park Summerfest, the annual three-day party at Bohlken Park. So, mark your calendars: Summerfest is moving to June this year.
Traditionally held in mid-July, Summerfest will take place June 27-30. Note that date range covers four days, as the amusement rides will open a day earlier, at 6 p.m. June 27.
The extra evening of amusement rides is being added to shore up the event’s finances, said Andrew Watts, Summerfest’s new chairman. Watts, who has served on Summerfest’s committee of volunteers for the past three years, succeeds Jeanine Minek, who has served as either chair or co-chair for the past two decades. Minek continues to serve on the Summerfest committee.
The event’s date was moved up because of amusement ride availability, said Watts, who, with his wife, Katie, has lived in Fairview Park for nearly four years. Organizers plan to hold Summerfest in June in future years, he added.
A new company, Bates Bros. Amusement Co., will provide the thrill rides, Watts said. Summerfest officials received good recommendations on Bates Bros., and a more favorable contract from the Wintersville, Ohio-based company, Watts said.
“We’re really excited about being involved with them,” said Watts, who works as a hospitality industry consultant.
A nonprofit organization, the Fairview Park Municipal Foundation, actually runs Summerfest, not the city. That fact surprises a lot of people, Watts said.
“Residents weren’t aware that it wasn’t fully city-funded,” he said.
People may also be surprised that the festival’s future has been in danger in recent years for financial reasons. Last year, the foundation lost around $14,000 on Summerfest, Watts said.
For many years, the city, through the police and service departments, donated security and other services to Summerfest. But several years ago, budget constraints due to losses in tax revenue and state funding forced the city to charge the foundation for those services. That severely hurt Summerfest’s finances.
To help Summerfest regain its financial footing, the city will temporarily provide some security and trash collection services at no cost, Watts said.
Watts and Beth Jones, the Summerfest treasurer, declined to say how much the foundation has in reserve funds. But Jones said it is barely enough to run Summerfest, and down significantly from what it once was.
Last year, Summerfest included beer sales for the first time ever to raise money.
“That was out of necessity,” Watts said of the beer garden, in which beer sales were allowed in a cordoned-off area.
A handful of residents expressed opposition to the beer garden, but organizers said it was successful and caused no problems. They plan on bringing the beer garden back this year. An ordinance exempting Summerfest from the ban on alcohol in city parks this year is expected to be approved by City Council on May 6.
Several months ago, organizers launched a campaign to save Summerfest. Jars in which residents could deposit donations were placed in local businesses and at the Fairview Park Branch Library. A decision was made to charge a $25 fee for businesses and political candidates participating in the Summerfest parade. Nonprofit organizations will not be charged.
Efforts to sign up corporate sponsors were increased. For the first time ever in 2013, Summerfest will have a presenting sponsor – Fairview Hospital. Other corporate sponsors are still being sought, Watts said.
Another Summerfest first is its website – FairviewSummerfest.com. The event also has its own Facebook page and a new logo featuring the silhouette of a Ferris wheel.
Efforts to solidify Summerfest’s finances continue. However, during a planning meeting Thursday, committee members were confident enough about the improving financial picture that they reversed a preliminary decision that cut the amount of money budgeted for the fireworks display.
Several months ago, residents were e-mailed a link to an online survey about the event. The survey revealed that attendees wanted more craft vendors and more entertainment, particularly on Sunday, the last day of the festival, Watts said. He added that the survey indicated some events, such as pony rides for children organizers had thought were sacrosanct, weren’t valued as much by attendees.
Watts said his goal for future festivals is to sign up more musical acts, especially ones that have a more popular following, in order to draw more attendees.