Festivals Promote Unity, Development for Cities. (Special Report: Capitalizing on Downtown Festivals and Celebrations)

Article excerpt

They come in all shapes and sizes. They celebrate the contribution of work animals, food, ethnic diversity, art, education and many other themes. Every city, large or small, has at least one.

And though festivals are not necessary for a city's survival, they bestow benefits tangible and intangible to the communities that host them.

"They increase revenue, bring people together and educate the community," said Susan Kalish, director of communications for the National Recreation and Park Association. "Festivals are one of the only events where people of various educational, economic and ethnic backgrounds come together to play, eat and learn."

In small towns, festivals do not necessarily have an economic impact, since they mainly draw from the local area. But they still impart benefits that are important to the community's residents.

"This is a way to get our citizens involved in things that the city is doing. It helps develop a rapport between the city and the residents," said Jan Shockley, interim city manager for Lake Alfred, Fla., a city of 3,920 in Central Florida.

Lake Alfred hosts three festivals, Fourth of July, Street Dance and Christmas Tree Lighting. Each draws Lake Alfred residents to the city's downtown business area for food, entertainment and a chance to learn about city services.

Since Lake Alfred is too small for a main street association, Shockley said the city actively seeks participation from local business and civic organizations.

"Basically we want to ask all businesses to stay open late those nights because it does tie into the business community and helps them," said Shockley.

For Gautier Miss., population 19,000, the annual Mullet Festival achieves another important goal: Name recognition. Now in it's 12th year, the festival is held on the grounds of the city's only institution of higher education, the Gulf Coast Community College, Jackson County Campus.

"The Mullet Festival does give our city a specific identity and it puts our name out there. It draws people from surrounding areas and introduces our city to people from our region and across the country, since we're close to the Pascagoula (Miss.) Naval Base," said Gautier Mayor Ken Taylor.

"We get people who travel through our city and this is a great opportunity that someone might come into Gautier, fall in love with the area and retire here. …