Changes on the way for Covington Days festival

The festival began more than 20 years ago and was organized by a community committee. Later it was managed by the city before the event was handed off to the Covington Lions Club.

Changes are on the horizon for the Covington Days festival, which this year is set for July 20-21.

Planning for this year’s festival began in September, said Judy Swanberg, a Covington Lions Club member who has helped chair the planning committee since the Lions took over the event in 2005. The festival began more than 20 years ago and was organized by a community committee. Later it was managed by the city before the event was handed off to the Lions.

At a meeting to plan for the festival Feb. 21, Swanberg said, city staff brought up three options.

“The first option they gave us was they’d take it over, they’d do it, not the Covington Lions Club,” Swanberg said. “The second option was they pull out their support and they would put on their own festival. The third option was they would leave it status quo.”

While the Lions see the city’s offer to help as a move to take the festival away from the club, Covington’s Community Relations Director Karla Slate said the city wants to take a larger leadership role.

“It’s not that we’re trying to take it over,” Slate said. “The options for us are to see if it makes sense for the Lions Club to transfer leadership to us. But, just because the city would assume leadership doesn’t mean the city is running everything. We never went into it saying they have to give it up.”

City Council members and city staff were concerned about the direction of the festival Slate said.

Swanberg said that because the event was moved to Cedar Heights Middle School after MultiCare expanded a few years ago, businesses in the community in particular were not willing to support the festival as sponsors because it was outside the city limits.

As a result, the Lions Club looked at moving it into the city, but because there isn’t a space large enough to hold all the vendors, carnival rides and entertainment in Covington, Swanberg said, it will be smaller this year.

Due to the lack of support, Swanberg said, the club lost money on Covington Days for the first time in 2012.

“We wanted to know if the community wanted to back us or not, if they wanted it in the city and they wanted to support it,” Swanberg said. “We could make it as big as we wanted but the community would have to pay for it.”

As the City Council considered what would be the best investment of taxpayer dollars, it directed staff in late January to evaluate what could be done to enhance the festival, Slate said. In recent years Covington has given between $12,000 and $18,000 to Covington Days through in-kind donations of services

“A lot of residents talk to us about (Covington Days) and feel like it’s getting away from its community roots,” Slate said. “And that’s not necessarily the Lions’ fault. In recent years the city has done a lot of research with residents and has found that they want us to enhance those kinds of festivals or to become more involved with them and it has been the city’s priority to do that.”

Slate said the city has more resources available to accomplish some of the things the Lions Club may not be able to do because it’s an all-volunteer group with members who also have day jobs.

“We want the Lions club to continue to be a part of it,” Slate said. “They could utilize the festival as a fundraiser in some way and not have to worry about losses because we would manage it.”

Swanberg said that there is a misconception that Covington Days is the club’s biggest fundraiser. She explained 80 percent of money generated by the festival goes back into the fund for the event for future planning. The rest goes to the club’s community projects.

Ultimately neither the city nor the Lions Club wants the event to go away.  At this point it’s a matter of deciding the best way to plan and organize Covington Days going forward.

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the Lions Club told the council members it would hand the festival over to Covington.

The City Council voted unanimously at the meeting Tuesday to assume leadership of the planning committee for the Covington Days festival.

Swanberg said she felt the city wasn’t providing the club the support it needs. The message the Lions received was the city doesn’t “think it’s grand enough and obviously you can’t do it grand enough, so, we’re going to do it.”

Slate said the city doesn’t want to see the event go away. It’s simply a matter of figuring out where to go from here.

“We’ve worked with the Lions Club for years on the planning committee and we want to continue to work with them but we want to make sure that if the festival sticks around that it’s what the community really wants,” Slate said.

With the City Council’s vote this week and the Lions Club’s decision to transfer leadership to the city of Covington, change is indeed on the way for Covington Days this year and the years to com.