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Mainstrasse Village Association Nearly Out of Money

The Mainstrasse Village Association is nearly out of cash.

The nonprofit business organization that produces events like Oktoberfest and Maifest in the Covington neighborhood held a meeting late last week to bring board members and business owners up to speed.

"The past four years, the festivals have been dwindling. Not for any particular reason but mostly because of weather," said Amy Kummler, owner of Up Over, a bar on Main Street, during Thursday night's meeting held at the MSVA office. Kummler, the board chair, said that it "had been a minute" since the last MSVA board meeting. "What is happening is, financially we are not as in good a standing as we would like to be and we want everybody to be aware of that and we are up for any suggestions, because we are getting ready to work on Christmas activities."

And Christmas may not be as bright in the Village as it had been in recent years. At the meeting, it was discussed that the lights and decorations that were used in recent years be scaled back in favor of the older decorations that have been stored in Goebel Park.

Annie Venerable took over as executive director of the MSVA just before Oktoberfest in September. She and administrative coordinator Donna Kremer are the organization's only full-time employees. Venerable said late last week that revenues from festivals continue to drop, and have for the past five years.

"MSVA is not a typucal business and because we have limited resources, we have to as a board be committed to holding this office accountable financially, making sure we are reporting to the board members monthly, and from you guys, I need you to be plugged in," Venerable said. "I need leadership and we all need to hold ourselves accountable for the financial health of this organization."

One troubling sign from the festivals is that beer sales have dropped $100,000 from 2012 to 2016, Venerable told the board. "That is significant," she said. "We can look at the weather. We keep very detailed records of the weather and we went back and looked, but we have consistently had bad days at all the festivals, so I think it is a number of issues."

"I think if we're going to survive, we have to take a hard look at what we're doing and see if they are the right things and if we're doing them the right way. If we keep doing things the way we are and hoping for the best, we're never going to survive. We have to change with it and if we don't, it's going to die."

News of the organization's precarious situation comes at a time in which the neighborhood is seeing some its greatest success. Mainstrasse has become a fine dining destination and attracts visitors with refined culinary tastes as well as those seeking a good time at one of the popular bars. It is also an up-and-coming residential neighborhood with hundreds of new rental units set to go under construction in the next two years. 

But one of those projects will likely eat into the MSVA's festival revenues, too. When the new mixed-use residential and commercial development is built upon the parking lot north of the Village along Fifth Street, it will occupy the site of the festivals' "midway", where amusement rides are set up for the weekend-long events. There is not a likely replacement site available.

"I think we have this formula and for a long time that formula really worked, but about five years ago that formula stopped working," Venerable said. 

The precise financials were not shared in the public portion of the MSVA meeting. The board elected to meet in executive, or private, session and no formal decisions about a path forward were made. How much money the organization has and how much it needs were also not made public.

What is known is that there is some soul-searching taking place within the organization.

"We're not asking those questions about who we are, why we are we here, what are our goals," said Venerable. "An organization without goals is just like floating out there and these numbers feel like we've just been floating out there a little bit too long.

"We have't made actual money in five years."

Board member Jeremy Braun said that it had been discussed scaling back some of the organization's festivals, and focusing on Maifest, Oktoberfest, and perhaps three smaller ones without closing Main Street so frequently. Board member Tom Fessler also suggested that the amount of activities takes away the attention of the MSVA director and assistant.

"My purpose in this meeting was - the last thing I would want to happen would be for the doors to close and for no one to know where we are," Venerable told the board. "That would be devastating. It would be like showing up to work one day and the doors being locked. We're not in a good place but we're not there yet. But if we don't make some really big changes really fast, we're going to be there."

Venerable said "a heavy infusion" of cash would be needed.

Kummler said the board needs to find a way to get the organization to the spring when Maifest returns. "That's not a long time," she said. 

In the meantime, the organization is getting to work on its scaled-back Christmas decorations while figuring out what happens next.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Crowds at Oktoberfest (RCN file)