Farmington looks to hire planner for ’21 Founders Festival

While the City of Farmington won’t “own” the 2021 Greater Farmington Founders Festival, officials have agreed to contract with an event planner who will pull it together.

Council members voted during a Tuesday special remote meeting to authorize contract talks with Julie Law of 360 Event Productions, a company that produced the Festival when it was managed by the Greater Farmington Area Chamber of Commerce. After canceling the 2020 event due to COVID-19, the Chamber announced in July that it would no longer host the event.

Mayor Sara Bowman has been meeting since then with individuals and organizations interested in keeping Founders Festival alive.

“Council agreed pretty quickly that we, as a city council, don’t want to see this event cease,” she said.

Miss Farmington 2019
Miss Farmington Cities 2019 Emma Hahn and her court rode in the 2019 Founders Festival parade. Plans are in the works to bring back the pageant and parade in 2021. 

Bowman listed the individuals and organizations that have verbally committed to the 2021 event:

  • Saturday Parade – Farmington Hills resident Roger Avie has more than 15 years of experience and has committed to organize the 2021 parade.
  • Beer tent – Dan and Colleen Irvin will organize this as a fundraiser for the South Farmington Baseball & Softball program, something they’ve done in the past. Also, Dan Irvin previously managed the Festival when it was under the Chamber umbrella.
  • Vendors and crafters – Working with Farmington Farmers Market manager Walt Gajewkski, market vendors will be brought more onto the street during the Festival and incorporated with downtown businesses.
  • Ox Roast – The American Legion will take on this long-standing Festival feature.
  • Arts – Dwayne Hayes of Kickstart Farmington will coordinate an arts component to the Festival, including the Kickstart Gallery & Gift Shop on Grand River, and will get more businesses involved.
  • Volunteers – Bowman said several Farmington residents have offered to coordinate and manage Festival volunteers. In addition the Farmington Hills Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) will assist with event management, to reduce the cost of providing Public Safety and Public Works staff.

Bowman said the City of Farmington Hills has offered to support the event with tents, tables, volunteers, and other resources, and the Farmington Area Jaycees have committed to involvement as well. The Farmington/Farmington Hills Optimist Club may also hold its Children’s Wellness 5K Run as part of the 2021 event.

“The conversation I’ve been having is, it’s going to be a much smaller scale,” Bowman said. “It really feels like this is going to be a downtown event.”

Survey results: city leadership

The move fits with results of a survey created by Mayor Pro Tem Joe LaRussa, which drew around 440 responses. He asked whether residents wanted to see the Festival city-owned and operated, city-owned with an outsourced operator, third-party owned, or other suggestions.

LaRussa said the majority wanted the city running the show.

“When asked in plain language what is the best source of leadership for this event,” he said, “the people who have answered my poll feel that city leadership is the most trusted source of leadership.”

LaRussa also asked why management of the event wasn’t bid competitively.

“We don’t have time,” Bowman said. “I have somebody out there who knows our people, who knows our city, who knows how to run this festival, everything’s at the ready.”

City attorney Tom Schultz said the city is not legally required to go out for bids with a service agreement. The charter requires competitive pricing and ensuring there’s no advantage to the contractor.

“It’s a joint council decision, it’s a policy question,” he said.

Council member Maria Taylor suggested bidding out the contract in subsequent years, and Bowman noted she had not locked in an agreement.

“(Law) may come back and tell us she can’t do only one year, and then we’d be out looking for someone else,” she said. “We’ve reviewed sample contracts, different options, and ideas. I can’t speak for her.”

Any contract with 360 Event Productions would require city council approval.

ClarificationMayor Bowman on Thursday clarified that she has received verbal commitments from the community groups mentioned. Also, the Farmington/Farmington Hills Optimist Club’s involvement would only include its Children’s Wellness 5K race. The article reflects those clarifications. 

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