Farmington council looks at Festival in 2021 and beyond

Farmington council members are pursuing short-term and long-term solutions that ensure the Greater Farmington Founders Festival happens next year and continues in the foreseeable future.

Officials had a discussion in late July after Mayor Sara Bowman proposed creating a nonprofit board to run the annual event. The Greater Farmington Chamber of Commerce announced in June that it will no longer “own” the festival.

During an August 6 special meeting, Bowman asked her colleagues whether they wanted to move forward with the nonprofit, or schedule a discussion for a future meeting.

Council member Steven Schneemann said he didn’t see many other options outside setting up the 501(c)3.

“I think that it is something we should move forward with,” he said. “My hope is we can put together a nice festival for 2021… I also think we should engage in additional discussion for long-term planning for the festival.”

Long-term sustainability

Schneemann suggested a long term strategy that involves the cities of Farmington and Farmington Hills, as well as other groups that have already expressed an interest in setting up a structure and governance.

While not criticizing the idea of a citizen-driven committee, he said, “A lot of times, if there’s not enough structure, those things can change and evolve pretty rapidly and that wouldn’t bode well for the long-term sustainability of the festival.”

Mayor Pro Tem Joe LaRussa said it’s easy to get wrapped up in planning next year’s event, and “lose the longer horizon.”

“Maybe we can elevate the dialogue and talk about strategic alternatives that do exist,” he said. “I think we owe it to the community, now that the ownership is up for grabs, so to speak, to have that dialogue. I really want to avoid that short-term thinking trap.”

“We have an opportunity right now to set this up for long term-success,” council member Maria Taylor said.

Study session planned

LaRussa pointed out that putting together a corporate entity, while it might work for the short-term, may not be a long-term answer. He asked whether some of the paperwork for a nonprofit could be set up, short of filing, so as not to delay the planning process. 

City attorney Tom Schultz said his firm could get started on the project. He said it is an intensive process, not so much in the paperwork, but deciding who will hold which positions.

Schneemann favored setting up a study session so that officials could learn more about the groups that have spoken with Bowman about wanting to be involved. Bowman said those discussions have been “very, very high level,” and she wanted to get something more solid than “handshake agreements” before bringing those forward. 

“I’m trying to be very very careful not to take this over as a city,” she said. “My goal here is to ensure that Farmington sees a Founders Festival… to get something out there next year, and also to give it an identity, so that in 20 years, we’re not seeing the same conversation year after year. How do we ensure it happens to the level the community expects?”

LaRussa suggested a joint study session with Farmington Hills council members, but Schultz said it may be too early for that. “I think you’re still trying to decide what the council and City of Farmington’s role is. I think you can have that discussion while we do the legwork.”

No date was set for the special study session; the council meets next on August 17.

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