UPDATED: Greater Farmington Chamber drops Founders Festival

The Greater Farmington Founders Festival, one of Farmington’s signature summer events, needs a new owner, but Farmington Mayor Sara Bowman says the event will bounce back.

The Greater Farmington Area Chamber on Monday announced it will no longer run the Festival, which was cancelled this year due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns. During Monday’s special city council meeting, Bowman said she will meet this week with City Attorney Thomas Schultz and City Manager David Murphy to talk about options.

“Neither I as mayor nor this council has any interest in letting the Founders Festival fall by the wayside,” she said. “Rest assured, Founders will be back in some iteration. We will not let it die here.”

Chamber Director Connor Osborn said the move allows the business-centric organization to concentrate resources on its core mission.

Farmington Fido Fest
Fido Fest has been part of the Founders Festival since 2018.

“We love the Festival, but we wanted to focus more on our members and the business community as a whole,” he said, “helping them navigate this ‘new normal’.”

An early version of the Chamber launched the Founders Festival more than 50 years ago. It passed to the hands of a non-profit community group before the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) took over around 2008. The DDA relinquished control to the Chamber in 2013.

Held in mid-July, Founders Festival typically includes three days of music, food, vendors, and family-friendly activities, and has seen its share of controversy. Most recently, residents panned the Chamber’s decision to move the bulk of events from downtown Farmington to Shiawassee Park.

LOC Color Run
LOC Federal Credit Union has sponsored a Color Run during the Greater Farmington Founders Festival.

Murphy said he wasn’t surprised to learn about the Chamber’s decision. In December of 2018, council members talked about whether the city should get involved in planning the event’s future. While electeds haven’t formally discussed the issue, he said, “certainly, we don’t want to see it just fade away.”

“I think the city will see if there’s support to put together a community group,” he said. “We could put together some kind of group made up of different entities.”

Greater Farmington Area Founders Festival parade
Beaumont Farmington Hills (formerly Botsford) hospital has long sponsored the Founders Festival parade.

Osborn said Monday’s decision was a long time coming. The Chamber’s Board of Directors has talked about the future of the Festival over the last year.

Before it was cancelled, the 2020 Festival had a $180,000 budget that included Fido Fest, an expanded carnival, the annual parade, musical entertainment, and more. Costs are typically covered by sponsorships.

Osborn said the Chamber will continue to maintain the event website and hold onto Festival-related materials, but will not be involved in finding a new event owner.

However the Founders Festival proceeds, he added, “I’m sure a lot of our members and the business community will continue to be involved.”