Highwood’s festival strategy starting to reap results
Lake Forest residents (from left) Harper Breidenbach, 7, Ava Ekholdt, 8, Chase Breidenbach, 10, and Jennifer McGregor carve pumpkins during Highwood's Pumpkin Fest on Friday when the city attempted to have the most people carving simultaneously. | Ryan Pa
Updated: October 23, 2012 2:59PM
Highwood Alderman Eric Falberg is optimistic the Great Highwood Pumpkin Fest will finish in the black this year, thanks to an increase in paid sponsorships and the use of volunteer manpower for everything from advance planning and traffic control to final clean-up.
Thousands of people filled the closed-off streets of downtown Highwood Saturday night to watch the candle-lighting of more than 32,000 carved pumpkins. The pumpkins. carved over a three-day period, were displayed on walls of scaffolding that stretched as far as the eye could see.
“Each year, we are able to get more and more sponsorships, because people see what is going on, what the reach is and how it helps the community,” said Falberg, in his fourth year as one of two alderman from the Fourth Ward.
At the depths of the economic downturn, the City of Highwood launched the Evening Gourmet Farmers’ Market and Pumpkin Fest to bring people into the city to see firsthand what it has to offer. The city budgets about $200,000 for all of the Celebrate Highwood special events. However, Falberg stressed the expenses are offset by revenue and public tax dollars are no longer needed to subsidize the events.
“The first couple of years it cost the city something,” said Falberg, putting the loss the first year at a little more than $20,000. “When you are building a business, do you expect to make money the first year?
“We felt it was important to put Highwood back on the map,” said Falberg, saying the events are transforming the image of Highwood “from a place you go to get drunk” to a good place for young families.
“We think over the next few years, this will be a very big revenue generator for the city of Highwood.”
He E believeHe Ee The televised rivalry this year between Highwood and Keene, N.H for world-record honors may have kicked interest up a notch. The two towns vied Saturday to have the most pumpkins simultaneously carved and lit. The official outcome is being kept hush-hush until “Pumpkin Wars”, a one-hour special, is broadcast at 8 p.m. CST Halloween night, Oct. 31 on HGTV.
Falberg said there are municipal costs associated with the event, such as police overtime. But Highwood supplements its small police force using trained emergency volunteers from Zion.
The city taps another less obvious source of manpower: People who has community service hours to work off as a result of traffic violaions.
“What is wonderful about that is these people became part of the event as well,” said Falberg, noting they brought their families, and came back to work on their own time after their community service hours were up.
The city’s public works department — all of three employees — wouldn’t be able to handle the daunting cleanup after the festival, but volunteer help and in-kind contributions from area businesses filled that void.
For instance, haulers from Mendino Excavating carted off the thousands of carved pumpkins that weren’t claimed to a Wisconsin pig farm, where they will be converted to pig food.
Each year, the Highwood Chamber of Commerce has been picking up more of the expenses associated with the Celebrate Highwood events, which also include Bloody Mary Fest, Garlic Fest and Inferno Fest, which was added just this year.