Mainstrasse Village Association Eliminates Executive Director, Plots Path Forward
The executive director of the Maintrasse Village Association is out of a job.
The MSVA's board of directors informed executive director Annie Venerable that the organization could no longer afford a full-time director. A longtime assistant, Donna Kremer, will be retained on a part-time basis. Their last day as full-time employees was Thursday.
"There's just no money to pay me, and I know that to be true," Venerable told The River City News. She sounded the alarm about the organization's financial difficulties last month. Specifics about the organization's funds were never released publicly, but its "runway" was said to be short. A few days later, the MSVA elected new board members where the topic of a path forward was discussed.
"I could have sat there and just collected my paycheck and let it go, but it didn't seem like the right thing to do," said Venerable, who also works as a real estate agent. Her salary was not disclosed.
Since the election of a new board, the finances have been pored over, namely by new treasurer Chip Adkins, co-owner of Piper's Cafe in Mainstrasse Village. The organization is mostly known to the public for producing Covington's iconic Oktoberfest and Maifest celebrations, but at recent meetings it was discussed that the organization had not made "actual money" in five years, and that beer sales continued to tank.
"It was a hard decision," Adkins said of letting Venerable go and reducing Kremer to part-time. But, he said, the new board has been aggressively taking steps to reverse its bad fortunes. They have had three meetings since their elections on November 17, and no fewer than 13 of the 14 members have attended each one. "Sometimes it's hard to get enough people to a board meeting and we have not had that problem."
Adkins was elected to his first stint on the board last month and has led the charge to dive into the books. At a special meeting on Thursday night where Adkins was formally elected treasurer and Amy Kummler, owner of Up Over bar, was re-elected president, members were asked to share their views on where the MSVA goes from here. It is clear that the MSVA will function differently moving forward, but formal decisions will be made after the new year begins.
"We are looking at what we as an organization are going to do to make people come back to the MSVA and want to be part of it and to help us," Adkins said.
Though the festivals have seen dwindling returns in recent years, the neighborhood has seen a resurgence, with a number of high-end bars and restaurants making their mark on Mainstrasse Village and defining itself as a "foodie destination".
Now the question is how will the neighborhood's namesake organization - which is also vacating its offices above Dee Felice Cafe and looking for a new, less expensive home - evolve with it? "Are the festivals going to be the same? The answer is, most likely, no," Adkins said. Maifest, which is produced in May, is next on the calendar. "We are actually taking a look at them in detail, the financials, from a production standpoint. What do we need to do to change the face of the festivals? To make them a showcase for the Village? They are not over, but I can tell you that they are going to be different."
The festivals will also be impacted by forthcoming development. A large new apartment and commercial project will be constructed on the parking lot along Fifth Street where the amusement rides are typically set up during large festivals. Revenue gained from that "Midway" area will likely be lost or heavily reduced, too.
But, Adkins said, the MSVA will find a way.
"Reports of our death were premature," he said. "I don't wear rose-colored glasses. I look at the numbers and if something is really bad and needs to be changed - I've been a businessman long enough to tell you, I'm not shy about saying something needs to be shut down.
"I can tell you that this organization can survive. This is going to be a lean, mean volunteer machine going forward. It's going to run with the help of the neighbors and the businesses and so many other things, and we as an organization and we as a board feel that this is the way it has to go in the future to stay relevant."
As for Venerable, who took over the position in the summer after the departure of longtime director Kim Blank Wolf, a little rest is in order. "For now, it's the end of the year and I am going to spend some time with my family," Venerable said. "I feel like I haven't seen any of my friends and family for the last six months. It's very intense. I knew that going in, but I really wanted to do it."
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photo: Carroll Chimes Bell Tower in Mainstrasse Village (RCN file)