In April of this year, Dell Davis resigned from the Claremore Area Chamber of Commerce after 16 years of service. Her years with the Claremore Chamber resulted in a number of positive developments for the community, few more prominent than the Bluegrass & Chili Festival.
Upon her resignation, the Chamber Board of Directors has been closely examining the organization’s future needs and current program of work.
“During this time of transition, we believe it’s important to not only evaluate what we need in personnel, but it’s also a perfect time to examine what we do as a Chamber,” said Jeff Howell, Chamber Chairperson.
After a lengthy discussion, the Chamber Board determined – after much consideration – that the Chamber will no longer partner with Dell Davis to present the Bluegrass & Chili Festival. Davis has been the driving force behind this event for many years and personally owns the rights to the festival.
“We are shifting the focus of the Chamber’s energies to more closely match the needs of our business membership,” said Chamber Chairperson Jeff Howell. “We wish Dell all the best as she determines a future course for this community event.”
“We are grateful for the opportunity to host the Bluegrass & Chili Festival for a number of years, but as with all healthy organizations, we must change to meet the needs of our members,” said Howell. “We are excited about what the future holds, and we are eager to bring some new initiatives to the Claremore area.”
There have been a few rumors and speculation regarding the Bluegrass & Chili Festival, so we wanted to share facts about this year’s event.
The Claremore Area Chamber Executive Board elected to wait weeks after Dell’s departure to make its initial statement regarding the Bluegrass & Chili Festival on May 8th, 2018.
“This was done as a courtesy to Mrs. Davis to allow her time to seek another sponsor,” said Jeff Howell, Chamber Chairperson.
City Manager Jim Thomas, Mayor Bill Flanagan and Tanya Andrews, Director of Claremore Tourism & Development, met with Dell Davis, the owner of the festival, several times to discuss the future of the Bluegrass & Chili Festival.
The history of the relationship between the Expo, the City and the festival is that the festival was produced by Ms. Davis and managed under the Claremore Chamber of Commerce. When Ms. Davis and the Chamber parted ways, the Chamber let the festival go with the hopes of it partnering with another entity. The City’s role in the event was to provide in-kind facilities, equipment and Expo staff and could do so because the Chamber (the managing partner) was a non-profit organization. At this point, the festival is owned by an individual, not a non-profit; therefore the Expo would have to charge full facility fees, including equipment. The value is approximately $20,000.
Timing is everything in a situation such as this. The event needs multiple sponsors and partners and with only three months left, it could not be pulled together. In addition, the event is funded by parking fees paid for by the public, vendor registrations, a portion of vendor sales, beverage sales, chili taster kit sales and a portion of the car show registrations. Overall, the event is approximately $200,000 to produce. With very little time and no sponsor commitments, the City, the Expo Center, or Visit Claremore could not assume the risk; the risk of putting start up money to guarantee performers with no guarantee of even a break-even event. These organizations are stewards of tax payer dollars and this would be a risk of a loss.
The event has never been one to make money, but to bring people to town; visitor impact is in the hotel stays/RV Park stays and sales taxes. Given the state of our economy the last several years, these numbers have declined and it is hard to share that information when you are recruiting sponsors for an event of this size.
Claremore has been home to the festival since 2001, when Dell brought it to the Expo Center while serving as the Marketing Director of the Claremore Expo Center. The event started in Tulsa some 38 years ago. Even though it had challenges with the move, it recovered over time. The event business is finicky at best, and the nature of the beast is you do what you have to make it a go until you can’t.
There is no one person at fault here. It is unfortunate, however, those involved truly feel they did everything they could within reason, to make it happen this year and they just couldn’t.
The exciting news is the Festival Committee is planning for 2019 and will be working toward finalizing a future venue and activities.