By Mike Kruzman & Jon King /

The City of Howell is partnering with several local organizations to bring this year’s Melon Festival back to its roots, including a return of the parade down Grand River.

City Council voted unanimously Monday to make the festival a city event, as it was prior to when the Howell Area Parks and Recreation Authority took it over in the mid-2000s. HAPRA will still be involved, but as one of the City’s five collaborative partners in an effort to revitalize the event. Also partnering with the City will be the Downtown Development Authority, the Howell Historical Society, the Howell Chamber of Commerce, and the Howell Area Fire Authority.

According to a memo to City Council and the Mayor from City Manager Erv Suida wrote that operating events such as the Melon Festival continue to be a struggle as many unknowns and changed norms have caused delays in bookings, a lack of volunteerism, and cost increases across the board. This can all make it difficult for a single organization to plan, manage and execute a successful event while also generating enough funds to cover those costs or even generate revenue.

By bringing back as a City event, Suida said he was excited for what this all means. He told WHMI they are looking to putting on an event that goes back to its roots and celebrates Howell’s agricultural community. Suida said they look back to the original Howell melon farmers, recognize them, and honor them. As part of this year’s celebration, they hope to highlight one of the last remaining Howell melon farmers.

Jordan Jones is the Special Events Manager with HAPRA and said it’s time to move on and move forward. She said Melon Fest had turned into a festival that was fun, but had a lot of outside resources coming in. Jones, like Suida and Council, wants to highlight the resources they have in town and the surrounding municipalities.

DDA Director Kate Litwin said historically Melon Fest has the positive impact of bringing people into the City, but was also difficult for downtown businesses as Grand River would be closed and filled with tents and outside vendors. Discussion at the meeting revealed that the City would aim to keep Grand River open as much as it could, potentially only closing it for the return of the parade, while moving a lot of the activities to the side streets. Sidewalk sales could return for event. Along with that and the parade’s return, there was talk about keeping the big hits with residents, like the beer tent, the 5k race, the car show, Corn Hole tournament, and more.

Melon Fest coming back as a City event will cost the City money, however, with estimates based on 2019 numbers projecting the cost of the event to be around $9,100. The City paid 50% of that, leaving the estimated additional cost for 2022 to be in the $5,000 ballpark. City Council and staff discussed pursuing sponsorships as a way of recuperating what they could.

The decision follows the controversy that derailed last year’s event, when a planned Drag Queen Bingo fundraiser was opposed by Meghan Reckling, Chair of the Livingston County Republican Party, who said she believed it was out of character for the family nature of the festival. The ensuing controversy forced the city to cancel the beer tent and scale back the event.