LACONIA — "Right now, thanks to Charlie St. Clair, all roads lead to Laconia," said Ruth Sterling, the manager the Keene Pumpkin Festival, who is seeking a home for the autumn extravaganza, which earlier this month was orphaned when the Kenne City Council declined to renew the license for the event.
Sterling visited Laconia yesterday to meet with St. Clair, of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, Karmen Gifford, of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, Amy Landers of the Lakes Region Tourism Association and Justin Slattery of the Belknap Economic Development Council. They discussed the management and operation of the festival, together with the resources required to stage it. She said that she expects to announce the venue of the 2015 festival on Friday, April 24.
"I would be thrilled," said Mayor Ed Engler at the prospect of holding the 2015 Pumpkin Festival in Laconia.
Likewise, City Manager Scott Myers said "I'm a proponent of these types of events in general," adding that he was especially familiar with the annual Hampton Beach Seafood Festival, which has grown from 200 people on a rainy day to an event attracting 150,000 in its 26 years. He said that "the logistics of hosting the pumpkin festival are workable. Definitely doable."
Sterling said that while more than a dozen towns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts have expressed interest in hosting the event, but yesterday's meeting was her first with potential hosts. She recalled that her relationship with Laconia began as the Keene City Council debated the future of the event after rioting and spill-over partying near the campus of Keene State College, coincided with the festival last October. St. Clair, who faced similar issues in dealing with critics of Motorcycle Week, traveled to Keene to speak on behalf of the festival.
"Laconia," she said, "has been very special ever since Charlie turned up."
The festival began in 1991 as an effort to amass the largest number of lit jack-o-lanterns in one place. Since 2011 the festival has been staged by Let It Shine, a non-profit corporation, with management by Sterling Design & Communications.
Sterling explained that the event is a one day street festival, which in the course of its history has set nine world records for the most glowing jack-o-lanterns, many of them racked on a tower 35 feet high perched at the top of Main Street. "I want to see a tower in October!," she remarked.
The street is filled with music and performances throughout the day and the celebration is capped by the lighting and counting of the pumpkins. She said that in Keene non-profit organizations operated the nearly the 50 food concessions, which represented their major annual fundraising effort. In addition, a craft court featured some 30 private artisans. The event has been supported by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, scores of local sponsors and hundreds of volunteers..
Since the Keene City Council denied the festival a license on April 2, Sterling said that people in the cities of Nashua, Portsmouth, Franklin and Claremont and towns of Exeter, Hampton Beach, Loudon, Peterborough and Rindge have courted the event, along with Spooky World in Litchfield, Cheshire Fairgrounds in Swanzey and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Both Gardner and Leominister, Massachusetts have also expressed interest.
Sterling said that she spent much of the day in Laconia on Wednesday and "loved everything I saw," adding "the community must want the festival."