Parker’s Favorite Weekend is quickly approaching. Once again, the annual Parker Days Festival takes over Downtown Parker the second weekend of June.
Last year marked the triumphant return of the festival after two years dark. Many people think that Parker Days is an event sponsored by the Town. In fact, Parker Days is a private festival owned by the Parker Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation. There was huge uncertainty about whether the festival could survive after financial challenges caused by the two-year COVID gap.
After a lot of soul-searching, financial planning, heated discussions (and, I’m guessing, some prayers), the Chamber’s board of directors made the decision to find a way. There would be no safety net.
I was the new guy at the helm, and I had never been responsible for an event this size. I’m a fairly confident guy, but it was scary as hell. The financial reserves of the Chamber were entirely depleted on the gamble that we could pull off a 2022 festival. I had nightmares of being the guy who killed both the festival and the chamber.
The stakes were so huge that I canceled my birthday. I told friends and family that it was officially moved from early June to early July.I couldn’t deal with any distractions from the job at hand. It felt like we were planning the Super Bowl.
Fortunately, I had a few aces in my pocket.
Our festival managers, Dean and Peg Menos, made miracles happen on a daily basis – navigating permits, wooing vendors, implementing security plans, erecting miles of fencing and electrical equipment. I asked them to make impossible staging timeframes work in order to lessen impact on Downtown businesses, and like the pros they are, Dean and Peg nodded yes. When you see them at this year’s festival, thank them for saving it. No one deserves more credit.
Many of our food vendors let us hold on to 2020 fees – interest free – until we were able to reboot in 2022. That was huge. We gambled with their dollars.
RTD came through for us, allowing us to use a portion of the Park-and-Ride so that we could unify the carnival areas and increase public safety. The Senior Center said “yes” to a couple of my wacky ideas. Grace Baptist, as usual, were incredibly generous with their land. Volunteers from local non-profits rallied volunteers to serve beverages. Parker Adventist Hospital gave us a sponsorship that almost made me weep.
We significantly beefed up security and dramatically cut our marketing budget. We cut everything that drained dollars or staff resources. We hunted down every upbeat party band in Colorado. We added a Silent Disco and an awesome train running up and down Mainstreet.
Fortunately, fate was on our side. Mother Nature largely cooperated, and most critically, the crowds turned out. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 2022 ended up the most successful year of the festival in its 47 year history.
People have asked me what’s going to be different in 2023. There are a few things.
First, we’re opening the carnival rides one night earlier, on Thursday, and we’re offering Family 4-Packs so that families can save money and enjoy the rides on a less-busy night. The revenue from that extra night of rides will help us cope with skyrocketing prices on everything from printing to fencing.
There will be a big screen at the Main Stage, thanks to a beautiful sponsorship from Groove Mazda. We’ve moved our second stage to the parking lot just east of The Local, so you’ll see a lot more activity in the center of the festival. We’ve added a Salute to the Armed Forces area on the east end that will be extremely cool. You’ll notice more decoration at the entrances. We’ve invested in faster machines to run credit cards.
Best of all, proceeds from this year’s festival will fund community grants. We’ve already written checks to both Rotary clubs, Dads of Parker, the Miss Colorado organization, Parker Adventist Hospital, the Mountain Pine Woman’s Club, and more this year. Money you spend at Parker Days 2023 will be returned to Parker organizations in 2024.
I’m super proud of that.
While my birthday is still postponed until after the festival, I’m not having as many nightmares. I have even promised my staff that I will take time to dance to That 80’s Band on Sunday night.
Come on, Parker. Let’s party.
T.J. Sullivan is the President & CEO of the Parker Chamber of Commerce. Find him on Instagram at @ParkerChamberCEO.