ROCKVILLE—Although Rockville’s next Hometown Holidays celebration is nearly a year away, Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and the city council discussed the duration and amount of funding for the two-day festival during their Aug. 22 meeting.
Rockville’s Hometown Holidays has been a staple in the community since the celebration began more than 30 years ago.
Colleen McQuitty, who serves as a special events manager for the city of Rockville, explained that in the last couple of years there has been a push to change the celebration from two days to just one. The shrinking amount of space in Rockville Town Center, in which the festival is held, is partly to blame, along with concern expressed from residents about the noise and hours of the event, she said.
“Based on input from stakeholders impacted by and participating in Hometown Holidays, staff proposed to hold Hometown Holidays 2020 as a one-day festival in the Town Center on Saturday from 12 to 8 p.m.,” McQuitty said.
This change would mean that city staff would plan a one-day festival, to be followed by the usual Memorial Day ceremony and parade that weekend.
McQuitty explained that the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 budget for Hometown Holidays reflects the change and provides less funding than in previous years.
“Planning for the 2020 festival is underway, and staff are at a point of signing multi-year contracts. Given that the contracts impact multiple years of the festival, we are requesting the mayor and council confirm the decision of late last year to reduce the festival to one day. (In order to) return to a two-day festival (staff) would require an additional $48,000 in FY2020,” McQuitty said.
Timothy Chesnutt, director of recreation and parks for the City of Rockville, explained that during the last year, as word got out that the festival could change from two days to just one, his office heard from the public about wanting to maintain Hometown Holidays as is.
“I think what we were surprised by was the number of comments we got at the 2019 Hometown Holidays, as the public was becoming aware of the decision for it to be one day in 2020,” Chesnutt said. “We really felt like we needed to make sure that it was a corporate decision before we got to signing these multi-year contracts (with bands and vendors.).”
Councilmember Mike Pierzchala also noted the decrease in attendance in the past five years or so and attributed it to losing concert space.
“We used to get a lot of people when we had the great big parking lot in front of Regal; you could get a very high-quality band and get 4,000 to 5,000 people to come in and watch,” he said. “Once that went away and then it became more of a street festival with multiple bands, and the bands are excellent by the way, but they’re not big-name draws, so there is a fundamental problem there.”
McQuitty noted that there has been a decrease in recent years, but last year’s Taste of Rockville, which goes hand-in-hand with Hometown Holidays, was a real boon for restaurants. She attributed the uptick to the placement and location of the entertainment stages.
Despite perhaps slightly lower attendance, Newton noted that she was approached by many people who wanted to keep Hometown Holidays a two-day celebration.
“The county executive approached me and said to try to keep this at two days because this is a great family event in Montgomery County,” she said. “I saw families walking to this town center all the time that weekend, and it was really wonderful.”
She went on to say that having smaller, more local bands made more Rockville residents come out in higher numbers.
“We need to continue to re-evaluate what Hometown Holidays is, what activities and opportunities are best and then move forward that way,” Newton said. “But, in the meantime, that doesn’t mean, in my opinion, that we should stop it. I would support the recommendation that we spend the extra $48,000 (to keep it at two days.)”
Councilmember Beryl Feinberg clarified that the money to keep Hometown Holidays a two-day event would be coming out of a contingency fund instead of increasing the town’s budget overall.
“(Hometown Holidays) is still what we’re known for, and I hate to give up one of those days. I think Hometown Holidays is almost like our trademark, and nobody wants to give up their trademark,” said Councilmember Virginia Onley as she seconded the motion to allocate funding.
The full council voted unanimously to approve allocating the $48,000 to keep Hometown Holidays a two-day event.