Salisbury Chamber planning event to replace festival

The Salisbury Festival will not be held this year.

A fresh event called “Fire on the Water” will replace the decades-old Salisbury Festival this fall, with a combination of arts and carnival elements.

“It will brighten the sky,” said Tony Nichols, chairman of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors.

Because details won’t be released for the next couple of weeks, Nichols gave few particulars, except to say it will be Oct. 2 and 3 “on the water” and that there won’t be fireworks.

The 32-year-old festival was discontinued following discussions among Chamber board member that started in 2012.

“The goal was not to create a hole in the hearts and minds of Salisbury residents, but to brighten up the city and stop the rinse and repeat cycle, the same thing every year,” Nichols said.

The announcement of the festival’s end stirred conversation on the streets, and elicited a letter of disappointment from the mayor but the Chamber barely felt a ripple. Only one letter and one e-mail were sent in protest.

When Chamber board members voted, everybody agreed.

“We at the Chamber, and me, being one of the louder ones, we were beating our chests in just about every meeting, saying, ‘The Chamber is not relevant. The Chamber is not relevant.  What can we do to make the Chamber relevant?’” he said.

In a typical year, there were more events than days in the year, and some were redundant. “The idea was to streamline and to try to create quality vs. quantity. In 2012 we began the process of doing the first strategic plan that we implemented. We had incredible people on the executive committee with passion for not only business but the community,” Nichols said.

They considered combining the now defunct Delmarva Chicken Festival with the Salisbury Festival, since the Chamber acquired rights from the Delmarva Poultry Industry. But Nichols said each has its own identity.

“Look for the chicken festival to retire in 2015 but look for news on the chicken festival in 2016,” Nichols said.

This year, the 97-year-old, 816-member Chamber will concentrate on  Fire on the Water, patterned after other successful affairs celebrated nationwide.

“Everyone knows the Salisbury Festival was born of the Dogwood Festival with arts on the plaza and it had an arts feel. But if you ask 15 people what they viewed the Salisbury Festival as, few would say arts. That is what the Salisbury Festival was founded under. So there is a hope we can revitalize that arts component. The carnival pieces will be in play multiple times during the year,” Nichols said.

 “With Fire on the Water, the community can look forward to community, spelled with a small C and a capital U. It truly is about downtown. If we continue to have a strong core downtown, that core is going to get stronger and stronger and permeate throughout the entire city,” he said.

“A family-friendly event that has something for everyone is coming. Just hold on.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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