COVID-19: Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival canceled
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the Reynoldsburg City Council had not reached a contract with West Virginia-based MPE. Council reached an agreement with the booking agent in March.
After returning from a one-year hiatus last year, the 54th Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival will wait until 2021.
The annual event is the latest central Ohio festival to fall victim to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Mayor Joe Begeny announced the cancellation during the City Council meeting, which was livestreamed June 8 on the city’s Facebook page. The festival was scheduled for Aug. 6-8 at Huber Park.
The decision to cancel was made “after much discussion and debate,” Begeny said, “particularly in light of the successful return last year.”
Begeny said canceling the festival was in the best interest of the city’s health – both physical and financial.
The city last year spent $50,000 to bring in country singer Phil Vassar and 1980s rockers Great White as headliners.
City Council earlier this year approved a similar contract with West Virginia-based MPE but has only paid about a third of that so far, Begeny said.
“What we’re hoping to do is roll over that money to apply to next year’s festival,” he said.
The city budgeted $192,634 for this year’s festival, Begeny said. Last year’s festival brought in about $87,000, and the difference was covered by the city’s general fund.
Started in 1965, the festival honors Reynoldsburg’s claim to fame as the birthplace of a sweeter, edible tomato created by resident Alexander W. Livingston. In 1870, he was the first to upgrade the wild tomato plant.
The 2019 festival was the first managed by the city. It went on hiatus in 2018 after being organized by Reynoldsburg Festivals Inc. for several years.
Under city management, the festival brought back carnival rides, added national musical acts and expanded entertainment to include more tomato-themed offerings, such as chili and salsa contests and a tomato fight.
Begeny said the city still plans to hold some Tomato Festival traditions, including awarding prizes for various categories of homegrown tomatoes and a “Reynoldsburg pizza tour” that will begin in July, to highlight the city’s pie-makers.
In addition to the Tomato Festival, the city previously announced it will not hold a July Fourth fireworks display and the annual parade has been curbed. But not everything is canceled this summer.
The city is working with the Reynoldsburg Community Association to sponsor patriotic decorating contests for yards and bicycles and will encourage residents to share pictures via social media.
The city has modified its popular “Movies in the Park” series, turning it into a drive-in event. The first drive-in movie will be a screening of “Jumanji” scheduled for June 27 at Civic Park.
Other movies slated for the summer series are a “Star Wars” installment and “Frozen.”
“It’ll be just like a drive-in, for those of us who remember what drive-ins were like,” Begeny said.
Officials also are organizing a series of neighborhood concerts highlighting local musicians.
With the 2020 event canceled, work will begin on next year’s festival “almost immediately,” Begney said. “We’ll make it bigger and better than ever."
For more information, go to reytomatofest.com.