Friday, August 08, 2014
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Chamber hosts luncheon for downtown merchants
Part two: Discussions include plans for 2015

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[August 08, 2014]  LINCOLN - When the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon the end of July for downtown merchants, the conversation began with discussion about changes to the event for this year. Nicole Cox of the Chamber, Chris Graue representing the Up in Smoke Barbecue, and Bill Hoagland representing the Taste of Wine offered updates on what will be new and improved this year in the downtown area.

At the tail end of the meeting, Patrick Doolin spoke about the plans for the streetscape work that had been scheduled to take place prior to the festival. The redesign of the downtown area was supposed to begin early this summer with the reconstruction of the sidewalk and parking space on the south side of Pulaski Street on the square. However, weather conditions prevented contractors from starting in a timely fashion. As late spring and early summer passed the contractors could not get into the area to start the work.

Doolin said that after much consideration, it was determined that with the late start date it would not be possible for the project to be finished before the festival. Therefore, it was decided that the project should be put on hold until immediately after the festival. Doolin said when the weather did clear up; the contractors had said there was a chance they could get the work done, but it was decided that it was too great a risk. The downtown steering committee met with the contractors, oversight engineers, Mayor Keith Snyder, and several downtown business owners, in early July and decided to put the project on hold.

At the luncheon, Hoagland spoke up saying it had been a good decision. He said he knew there were those who were anxious to show off the new design for the downtown area at this year’s festival, but had it not been finished; it would not have left the desired impression on out-of-town visitors.

Hake said she had also heard from David Lanterman that a decision had been made not to start construction on the new Lincoln Grand 8 Theater until after the festival. The original plan had been to break ground around the first of July. However, that didn’t happen. Hake said Lanterman decided that it would be better to wait until after the festival, and she was delighted with that decision.

Hake also began a discussion on the future of the festival by relaying a conversation she had with Helen Rainforth of Abe’s Carmel Corn. She said Rainforth had expressed she was quite happy to hear the festival would be split into parts next year.

For the downtown retailers, the problem with the gigantic festival is that there are too many people. Hake said she had heard this from a variety of sources who said the crowds that come in make shopping in the downtown stores an unpleasant experience. Because of this, many no longer go in the stores because of the crowds.

She said talking with merchants in past years she had heard this and was surprised. She said, “When I first heard that I thought ‘you’re really telling me there are too many people here.’ Last year I made an asserted effort to walk around downtown on Saturday and see what was happening, and I wouldn’t shop then either.”

In addition, the chamber had done an online survey after the festival last year and received comments from the public that there was too much going on at one time, and they couldn’t enjoy it all.

Hake said the mission of the festival had always been to bring people to downtown merchants. With the realization that people were not shopping the stores on festival weekend, she said it was time to step back and look at the festival and see what needed to be done in order to keep with the original mission.

Donna Becke of the Log Cabin Quilt shop wondered what would happen on a bad weather weekend. With there being only one event taking place per weekend as is currently being proposed, bad weather could ruin the entire weekend.

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It was pointed out though that whether it be an art show, flea market or the balloons, bad weather causes problems now as well, so what would the real difference be? In fact, expanding the large festival into multiple smaller festivals would increase the odds of good weather for portions, whereas now if it rains all weekend it has an affect everywhere.

Hake also talked about the art portion of the festival. The thought now is to move it into the downtown square. She noted the festival is down on exhibitors and referred to it as struggling. However, she noted the 47 vendors signed up for this year are going look sparse in Latham park, but move those same 47 people to the courthouse square, and it will look like a bigger event.

Another big struggle for the chamber in doing an all-in-one festival is the volunteers needed. To put on the festival as it is today requires more than 600 volunteers filling a variety of roles. If divided into separate weekends, the base number of volunteers needed will drop substantially.

Hake said with the balloon festival, the effort would go toward expanding the offerings at the airport. Vic Martinek said he felt that would be important. He said as one who has worked at the gate, people come out to the airport early on Saturday sometimes. When they find out they are there too early for the balloons, they sometimes leave because they don’t feel there is anything there of interest.

When asked how the weekend would divide out, Hake said the committee involved was still looking at that. In the past the entire festival has been held the last full weekend before Labor Day. In general this ranges anywhere from around the 22nd of the month to the 29th. She said the balloon portion would keep that date.

The other components have not been determined yet.

Doolin said the goal was to establish a mindset for people of “Let’s go to Lincoln. There is always something going on there.”

Cox also commented on the mission of the tourism bureau saying that group had adopted a new logo, “Destination Logan County." She said in what is being planned for the future that is the goal, to make the entire county a destination, not just Lincoln.

There will be more information forthcoming about the 2015 schedule. The Logan County Tourism Bureau will host a press conference on Saturday August 23 on the lawn of the Logan County Courthouse.

The Tourism Bureau, along with other event organizers will present more details about the expansion of the 2015 event calendar at that time.


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