HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – As ArtsFest wrapped up on Memorial Day, so may the summer festival season. A lack of funding for the remaining two city-sponsored events puts fun and profits in jeopardy.
Screeching electric guitars set the soundtrack for thousands of people flocking to ArtsFest this weekend.
“Just jamming the streets here for three solid days,” said Janet Reed of Jumpstreet.
The non-profit along with PennLive sponsored the first of what traditionally are three summer festivals in Harrisburg. In previous years, the city has sponsored festivals over the weekends of the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse said previous mayors spent upwards of $40,000 on festivals. He has said that is an expense that is too rich for a recovering city, which is why he vowed to use outside event vendors to plan and execute the summer festivals.
According to Jackie Parker, Harrisburg’s director of economic development, both Fourth of July and Labor Day weekend’s Kipona festivals are without event sponsors.
Harrisburg is planning to hold a one-day event on City Island on Saturday, July 4 to keep costs down. The city’s director of business development, Deven Drabik, said only $5,000 is budgeted for fireworks for that day and they need $25,000 to cover all costs. In some capacity, The Harrisburg Symphony is expected to perform.
Parker said a potential event vendor for the Fourth of July weekend dropped out during negotiations, which is why they’re looking for sponsors on such short notice.
The possibility of a summer without tradition is a hard pill to swallow for festival goers.
“I don’t know what else there will be for the kids this year,” said Cindy Warner.
Fun and relaxation may not be the only thing in jeopardy for the summer season. Several downtown restaurants and shops said a summer without festivals is an automatic loss in business.
One prominent bar owner on Second Street said he relies on thousands heading to festival weekends to make up for leaner weeks when state workers and lawmakers take vacation.
Last year, Papenfuse recruited the help of Hershey Harrisburg Visitor’s Bureau to help organize the “Summer in the City” marketing campaign. Billboards and bus ads were strewn throughout the city in efforts to promote people to Harrisburg.
According to Papenfuse, the marketing proved to be a profitable endeavor.
During that process is when Papenfuse uncovered a discrepancy, in his belief, with a contract between HHRVB, Dauphin County, former Mayor Steve Reed, and the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.
Earlier this year, Dauphin County Commissioners decided to shrink the amount of hotel tax revenues NCWM receives through HHRVB and found another alternate way to fund the museum, which all three believe is beneficial to the promotion of Harrisburg.
This has caused a rift between the mayor and HHRVB. And because of this ongoing saga between those entities, a city spokesperson said another “Summer in the City” campaign this season is highly unlikely.
Without festival sponsors or a strong marketing campaign for Harrisburg, there is a strong possibility ArtsFest was the last big party of the summer, even before it officially started.
“I think it’s sad,” said Rachel. “This is like the unofficial kickoff to summer and then you have the Fourth of July festival and then you have Kipona. Labor Day wraps things up. It’s just tradition. It would be sad to see that not happen.”