Friday, February 17, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Don’t let festival die

News that the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce was dropping its support of the Wing Ding festival came as a shock this week. It was supposedly cancelled because of low attendance and budget concerns.

Wing Ding was the city’s premier festival and drew visitors and participants from all over the state. Last year’s attendance was estimated to have topped 30,000. The total was similarly impressive in 2010.

Every October since 1999, the community did what communities do best: It gathered for funnel cakes and cotton candy and saw some top musicians and entertainers. The chicken-wing competition drew some of the best cooks from as far away as Memphis.

Chamber officials said that despite more than 200 hours of planning, last year’s event had a $12,000 loss. Organizers had turned Wing Ding into a significant attraction for central Arkansas, but bringing professional entertainers here — musicians and competitive eaters — added thousands of dollars to Wing Ding’s budget and may have doomed the festival.

But there’s already talk of reviving the annual event. Organizers will redirect their efforts to helping develop new fairgrounds near Rixie Road off I-440. Though an admirable pursuit, it will take several years to accomplish — much too long for Jacksonville to be without a festival.

The city is talking with Murphy Brothers Expositions to stage a regional fair, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. Mayor Gary Fletcher hopes that Murphy Brothers can operate a successful fair site if the Arkansas Livestock Association, which manages the state fair, decides it will not leave Little Rock.

We suggest Murphy Brothers step in for the chamber and organize Wing Ding this fall. That would give the community a look at the carnival operator’s potential before Jacksonville commits to building a multimillion-dollar fairgrounds.

In the meantime, the chamber should consider expanding the upcoming business expo in May to include more local entertainment and continuing the chicken wing contest at the farmers market next to the community center where the expo is held.

Cities all around here have successful festivals. You shut one down, and a piece of the community goes with it.