Lighthouse Festival is on the ropes
Last updated 3/6/2019 at Noon
The biggest party of the year in Mukilteo may be getting shut down after more than 50 years.
The Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival, the annual event that traditionally takes place in early September, has been on a downward spiral in terms of finances, sponsors, volunteers, and board members in recent years. The event has free entry, but some areas and activities in the festival cost money.
As previously reported in The Beacon last August, the 2017 festival had a deficit, but a lodging tax grant from the city helped the festival break even. Through social media, Lighthouse Festival President Julie Martin announced that the festival was in danger of not happening in 2019, and called on the community for help.
The Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival Association (MLFA) held a meeting Feb. 28 to discuss the future of the festival with members of the community. Roughly 50 people attended, including Christine Cook, Bob Champion, Anna Rohrbough, and Richard Emery from the Mukilteo City Council.
“I raised the red flag,” Martin told the attendees. “We have a lack of funding and volunteers to put on the festival. We have a $24,000 deficit. We’re struggling financially.”
Martin said sponsorship had dropped tremendously over the last five years, and costs for things like porta potties and buses have been increasing as well.
The festival also had an issue when its credit service had a “four-day glitch,” which resulted in extra charges and fees, causing the festival to lose roughly $5,000.
Marilyn Langdon, who served as the festival’s executive director for the last few years but was stepping down after the meeting, said the cost of electricity went up tremendously.
“There are always some other surprises at the end, too,” she said.
In regards to sponsors, Langdon said a new tax law made it so sponsors can’t deduct 501c4 contributions.
“If they want to pay that money, they want the deductions,” Langdon said.
As The Beacon reported earlier this year, there will be no festival parade, or Run-A-Muk 5K/10K in 2019. Martin and Langdon explained that those were two areas that weren’t bringing in enough money to warrant keeping, especially as the festival was in such a large financial hole.
“The parade used to be the marketing plan,” Langdon said, “now, it’s social media and emails.”
Martin said the festival has been doing fine getting vendors, but they don’t bring in enough money on their own.
“The sponsors aren’t coming in. The cost of the festival far exceeds the gain from the vendors,” she said. “Local businesses aren’t chipping in.”
Matt Martin, a local insurance agent who is a former festival board member, said this is an opportunity for the community to come together.
“This is a first-class party we put in, and it’s expensive,” he said. “The community has to say how much they want it (to continue). How did we get here? Like any small town the party is big and wonderful, and we don’t have the finances.
“It’s a grassroots effort now.”
Attendees offered suggestions for sponsors, with Paine Field being named multiple times.
“That’s a waste of time after chastising the airport,” Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Paul Ellis said. “It comes down to what should we (cut) and what should we raise.”
Former mayor Joe Marine was also in attendance, and pointed to the beer and wine garden as a way to raise more money.
Marine pointed out that although the beer and wine garden is at the festival, all money from it goes towards the Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce, and not the Lighthouse Festival.
“Our largest money maker is the beer garden,” he said. “The beer garden is here, and none of it goes to the festival without the festival, there is no beer garden.”
One money-making suggestion was to bring back Battle of the Bands, while shutting down the beer and wine garden so bands could play there, and charge $2-$5 for a ticket.
Another suggestion was to charge entry into the festival, and another resident suggested removing the fireworks show.
The question then came to why so many volunteers and board members were leaving.
Martin said many felt burnt out by helping out for so many years, while some resigned including Langdon due to the festival’s financial position.
Rohrbough suggested that before the festival starts reaching out to businesses, the board be filled with strategic thinkers who can develop a plan they can take to the businesses and organizations in the area.
“If I know I can go to businesses with a strategy, they’d donate,” she said.
Langdon told the crowd that to plan the festival, there needs to be between 30 and 40 people working year-round, with more in the summer, and roughly 150 to 200 people during the festival weekend.
After the meeting, Martin told The Beacon that three people who attended the meeting “stepped up to be on the MLFA board.” She said there are now four open “director-at-large” positions available. Those four positions need to chair or serve on various committees.
Additionally, the festival is still looking for a board treasurer and secretary,
“Other key volunteers needed are logistics chair, sponsor co-chair, Battle of the Bands chair, a graphic designer, and a volunteer to keep the website up to date,” Martin said. “Twelve people said they would like to help in other ways, and I will be following up with them to find out what their ideas or areas of expertise are.”
Despite there still being a high demand for volunteers and board members, Martin walked away from the meeting in good spirits.
“The message I heard was that those in attendance would like the Festival to continue,” she said. “There were a lot of great ideas, some new ideas and some that have been discussed on prior occasions. In my mind, the first step is continuing to gather a board and group of committee chairs that are strategic thinkers, and put together one-, three-, and five-year strategic plans for the Lighthouse Festival.”
Martin said she also hopes to remind Mukilteo residents why there’s a festival and why they love it.
“The 2019 festival may not look like it has in recent years, but I am confident, energized and hopeful that we will recruit and run with a full board of citizens who are equally as excited and energized about putting on this year's festival,” Martin said.
More decisions and discussion on the festival’s future will take place at the MLFA’s next meeting, March 28.
For more information on the festival, as well as volunteer or donation opportunities, visit mukfest.com.