What went wrong

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By Tracy K. Lorenz

Today kicks off the millionth annual Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven, hundreds of thousands of visitors will storm the city, much money will be spent, and then they’ll leave.  It’s a pretty good deal.

What gets me, and I’ve lived in Grand Haven for over thirty years, is why do they come here?  I mean, it’s a beautiful city but it’s always a beautiful city, not just one week a year. There’s a carnival downtown that’s no different than any other traveling carnival except it’s right in the middle of the main street in town, there’s a gigantic parade that’s just a parade except three hours long, there’s an arts and crafts show in the park and some fireworks that are basically the same as anywhere else and yet the tourists flock in like it’s free corn dog day.

Here’s the answer:  it’s nice and you can bring the kids. This is something Muskegon never figured out.

How many cities can you name that had their MAIN FESTIVAL cancelled?  Just since I’ve been around there’s been the Seaway Festival, The Lumbertown Music Festival, Summer Celebration, and the Air Fair; they’re all gone.  Meanwhile the Coast Guard Festival, Tulip Festival, Cherry Festival, Red Flannel Festival, and Fruitport Old Fashioned Days keep chugging along.

And I’m here to tell you why.

First off Muskegon has too many events. The other cities listed above have one. One main one anyway. In Muskegon there are too many events all clamoring for a finite amount of dollars. Summer Cel, The Air Fair, Irish Fest, Unity Fest, Snowfest, The Film Festival, Taste of Muskegon, Party in the Park, Bike Time, Rebel Road, Burning Man, some rap thing down at the Ovals, it’s just too much.  I’m on the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex Board of Directors and we used to have the same problem, we’d have some event EVERY WEEKEND and we weren’t making any money, then we scaled it back to just two events and things were suddenly much better.

Here’s another thing; of all the Muskegon events listed above how many are, or were, family friendly?  Or how many do or did revolve around alcohol?  The Air Fair wasn’t completely alcohol driven but there was enough, and can you really expect kids to sit still while being baked alive in a giant dust bowl of a parking lot?  Summer Celebration started out okay but crashed and burned when it became obvious that alcohol sales were more important than who was on stage.  I asked a big shot from Summer Cel once why there were so many country acts and 80’s rockers and he said “Because they sell the most beer.”  Well, there ya go.  Summer Cel started out as a cool event where you could take the kids and sit on a blanket and watch some concerts and ended up just another place to drink.  Plus the clientele sort of fell off, towards the end it got very carnival-midway-esque
Then there’s Bike Time.  Did anyone notice how the death of Summer Cel and the birth of Bike Time overlapped?  Summer Cel was doing okay with out-of-towners, with Muskegon marketing itself as a beach community, and  they decided they were a biker town and allll those out of town families went poof.  Muskegon always bragged about being blue-collar and if you didn’t like it you didn’t have to come, well, you got your wish.

Heck, even the new downtown they’re rebuilding, if you’re a family with three kids where are you going to go downtown?  Unruly Brewery?  The entire downtown is a playground for latent alcoholics between the ages of 30 and 55 who openly brag on social media about their obsession with basement beer.

So I’ll spend the next week watching throngs of tourists walk past my house in search of a good clean time in a nice clean place, they’ll be pushing strollers and laying blankets on lawns and standing in appreciation when military floats pass by. I know a lot of Muskegonites rag on Grand Haven for being too Grand Haven-y but hey, it’s not a bad place to ... celebrate summer.

Printed by permission of the author. Email him at Lorenzatlarge@aol.com.