Elgin considering ending some annual events, adding others

  • Elgin's Fox Trot could be one of several annual events on the chopping block because of declining interest, city officials say.

    Elgin's Fox Trot could be one of several annual events on the chopping block because of declining interest, city officials say. Courtesy of City of Elgin

Updated 11/8/2019 5:38 PM

Elgin is looking at possibly eliminating some special events and adding others as it begins discussions on the city's 2020 budget.

"We'll start out this process with the bitter pill," Mayor David Kaptain said during a Wednesday city council committee of the whole meeting.


Barb Keselica and Kate O'Leary presented the city council with two options while budgeting for Elgin's festivals, activities and events. Keselica was special events and community engagement manager until she became the assistant director of parks and recreation in December 2018. O'Leary was named special events coordinator in May.

The status quo option costs $595,000 and leaves the 20 events that Elgin sponsors in place, including the Daddy-Daughter Dance, Elgin Valley Fox Trot, Summer Movies in the Park, Nightmare on Chicago Street, the Veterans Day Ceremony and Dinner with Santa.

With an average revenue of $782 over the past three years, "the only event that makes money is the Daddy-Daughter Dance," Keselica said. Data from the recent Nightmare on Chicago Street was not yet available.

The second option offers a chance to "reduce and refocus," O'Leary said. It would involve eliminating four "underperforming events" -- International Festival (iFest), the Fox Trot, the Elgin Civil War Experience, and Art & Soul on the Fox.

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The plan would add three summer events at Festival Park and use focus groups and surveys to gather input from residents.

Councilwoman Tish Powell supported the addition of downtown summer events.

"We have to find a way to utilize Festival Park to actually have festivals," she said.

Attendance at some events has been dropping over the past three years, O'Leary said. The Elgin Valley Fox Trot saw the number of participants decrease from 2,000 in 2017 to just 1,300 two years later. In recent years, the event has been competing with multiple races in the area, many with various themes.

"There has been an oversaturation of races," Keselica said.

The Civil War Experience was harder to quantify because it's a two-day event and one of the days in 2018 was a complete rainout, O'Leary said. But attendance has declined and feedback indicates people felt they didn't need to return if they already had gone to a re-enactment in Elgin. The number of re-enactors involved also has decreased, O'Leary said.

Attendance at iFest went from 2,000 in 2017 to 1,400 in 2019, while Art & Soul on the Fox dropped from 2,000 to 1,200 during the same period.

Eliminating these four events would save the city nearly $100,000, O'Leary said. The plan is to find events that would be recognized as unique to Elgin and activities that would make the city a destination.


"I hadn't realized there were that many events," councilman Corey Dixon said.

He said the city might be missing opportunities because the staff is so busy and suggested it could consider reducing the number of events by more than four.

"Are we planning so many events that we can't maximize the value?" Dixon said.

Councilman John Steffen said the group should "look at how these events are structured" and explore possible partnerships.

The council will continue budget discussions at 5 p.m. Nov. 13, Nov. 20, Dec. 4 and at 6 p.m. Dec. 18.

Elgin also is sponsoring Budget On-The-Go, a series of informal meetings away from city hall for residents to ask staff members about the 2020 budget.

Coffee will be provided during two "Budget & Brews" sessions set for 8 to 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at Paul's Family Restaurant, 1300 Lawrence Ave., and 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at Lounge 51, Dream Hall, 51 S. Grove Ave. Tacos will be provided for the "Let's Taco 'Bout the Budget" session set for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, at The Haight, 166 Symphony Way.


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