Set up festival for next century


At age 99, the Portland Rose Festival may seem dated to some folks. Yet the festival has remained a financially stable and successful early summer celebration despite the recent severe economic downturn and the threat of terrorism that continues to keep many tourists at home. The Rose Festival also continues to withstand competition from hundreds of other local, regional and state festivals and community celebrations that arrive on the scene and oftentimes fail.

How has the Rose Festival done it? Of late, by cutting back on many of its sideshow activities and instead focusing on events that unabashedly cater to kids and families.

As the Rose Festival prepares to enter its second century, we think it must discover even more ways to be as dynamic as its namesake city.

Rose Festival directors say they already are working on the challenge while keeping one eye on why the festival was created in the first place: to serve as a celebration that gives Portland a positive local and national identity and also an economic shot in the arm.

We see multiple factors that will influence the festival's future.

• Dealing with weather is most certainly a primary consideration each year. Rainfall can diminish attendance at events and affect how visitors spend money at the waterfront fun center Ñ a primary source of festival revenue.

The start of the festival's second century may be a good time for the event to move to a date later in the summer when the weather is warmer, roses still are in bloom and tourists are on the road.

• Retaining a focus on kids and families is primary. But making the Rose Festival a bit more hip to attract some interest from the young and restless adult creative class is a worthwhile secondary goal.

Festival organizers already are thinking of how to stimulate some of that interest.

One such effort is planned for next year, with the launch of a film project that will show the festival through the eyes of high school students.

Organizers might want to expand the effort to include students attending local colleges and universities.

• Retaining the interest and the investment of the business community is critical.

To its credit, the Rose Festival has done a better job than most events in this area, even in the face of many businesses cutting back. But as Portland's economy diversifies, the festival must excite and involve the region's new firms, not just its traditional employers.

• Concentrating events into a shorter period of time might better focus the public's attention and create a more exciting atmosphere.

Fiesta San Antonio is another successful, big-city festival, but that event officially lasts just nine days, compared with Portland's 18-day run.

• Giving greater attention to Portland's increasingly diverse cultural and ethnic community is critical as well.

We recognize that some of these notions already are on the festival's leadership agenda as part of a newly adopted strategic plan that includes public input about the festival's future.

The upcoming 100-year bash offers an opportune moment to test new ideas and unveil changes. The Rose Festival can remain important to Portland by helping to define the community. As long as the two identities Ñ the community's and the festival's Ñ evolve and improve together, we see no reason why the festival won't be here for another 100 years.