Farmington officials mixed on Founders Festival meetings

While some Farmington city officials would like to have a say in planning the future of the Founders Festival, others believe that should be left to the event’s organizer.

City Manager David Murphy on January 7 suggested that the city host meetings for downtown business owners and other stakeholders, in the wake of the Festival’s 2019 move from Downtown Farmington to Shiawassee Park.

“It would be getting all the players together (to talk) about what it is and where it should go,” Murphy said. “Like it or not, the city will always be attached to it.”

Greater Farmington Area Chamber Executive Director Mary Martin pointed out during public comment that the move to the park – after holding 85 percent of Festival activities there in 2018 – is an effort to reinvent the Festival. Also, she said, any changes discussed during community meetings would have to go through the Chamber Board of Directors, which oversees the event. 

Council member Bill Galvin said the void created by the Festival offers an opportunity for expansion. While he liked the idea of engagement, he said volunteers – not city staff – should bring people together.

“I think having inclusive dialogues can only be good for everyone,” he said.

Council member Maria Taylor felt those who participate may be confused if the city hosts the meetings, a point Martin also made.

“My concern with the city facilitating is it might muddy the waters for people,” she said. “We’ve tried to make clear that the city just approved a permit… This gives the idea the city is responsible.”

Mayor Steven Schneemann said taking the Festival out of downtown marks a “sea change” in the event’s history. He said while some downtown businesses are Chamber members, all are DDA members, and the DDA board should represent them.

“I do think we can’t just sit on our hands or bury our heads in the sand,” he said. “I agree that it’s the Chamber’s event today, but it wasn’t for a long time, and it may or may not be in the future. I think we have more responsibility.”

Officials agreed that any meetings would be held after this year’s event. “For all we know, this could be the best Festival ever,” Schneemann said.