By Jeanne LeFlore
Eddie Gray, president of the Old Town Association, hopes to lasso $18,000 from the city of McAlester for the group’s upcoming Wild West Festival.
This year’s Wild West Festival is set for Oct. 5 in McAlester’s Old Town, and Gray is hoping to make it even better than last year’s with support from the city council.
Gray said Thursday the Old Town Association would like to use most of the requested money to promote the festival and the group’s goal is to increase tourism in McAlester.
“We want to bring in more out-of-town people and even out-of-state people,” Gray said.
He said the group would like to use another portion of the requested funds for equipment that could be used not only for the Wild West Festival, but other events as well.
Gray said that could include things such as sound equipment and tents for vendors.
“The Old Town Association plans on having more than this event,” Gray said, adding that the group is looking at holding up to four events annually.
“We’ve talked about a true arts festival and maybe a jazz festival,” Gray said. “We want to do things that work for our area.”
Gray said the Old Town Association is also working on statistics. Bringing in 3,000 people to McAlester for a festival can have a $1 million impact on the city, he said. That’s in addition to the spending from local residents, Gray said.
“We want to keep people in our community instead of having them go out of town,” he said.
Gray said the Old Town Association works to benefit McAlester, not just the north side where Old Town is located.
“The Old Town Association benefits no one but the people of McAlester,” Gray said. “All of our money goes back into the community.”
Gray made the Old Town Association’s initial request for $18,000 in city money in-person in front of the McAlester City Council at the council’s June 11 meeting. At that time, it had been placed on the council’s consent agenda, meaning it could have passed automatically along with other items, unless city councilors had questions or concerns.
They did — mentioning it was a request for a new item in the budget and that the city had not previously allocated funds for the event.
Ward 5 Councilor Buddy Garvin, whose ward includes Old Town, responded. “The Old Town Association has never come to McAlester for one red cent,” Garvin said.
“We’re dealing with tourism money. This here is tourism,” whether the council wants to recognize it or not, Garvin said.
“It’s one of the main events of McAlester,” he said.
Gray then had an opportunity to make his request.
“Our festival in Old Town used to be a very small festival,” Gray said.
“It’s become something that’s remarkable and is on the verge of becoming something huge.”
“We want to grow this festival from a 2-or-3,000-person event, to 10,000 or more.”
This year will mark the second year the festival has been called the Wild West Festival and the 17th consecutive year a festival has been held in Old Town. Previously, the event in McAlester’s Old Town has been called the Old Town Festival.
Asked how many days the festival will last, Gray said “It’s a one-day event. After this year, we hope to grow it to a two-day event.”
City Manager Pete Stasiak also offered some input, speaking about the Color Run held as part of last year’s Wild West Festival. That event involved participants starting a run with a white T-shirt and having different colors of dye added at stations along the run’s route.
“I personally know people who participated in that event,” Stasiak said. “They’re coming back this year and they’re bringing their friends.”
McAlester Mayor Steve Harrison suggested the city council take a look at the Wild West Festival’s audit numbers and the numbers budgeted for this year’s event.
Stasiak said he would work with Gray and Garvin to obtain the numbers requested.
City councilors delayed a vote on the question until presented with the requested financial numbers.
Gray said Thursday he and others were still working on the budget for this year’s festival and he plans to present the matter to council again as soon as possible after the budget’s completed.
Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.
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