(by Christine Bryant, Eastside Editor - April 19, 2009)
The Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival is going back to its roots.
Festival organizers are giving this year's event a facelift, with a new location, schedule and activities in the works.
Sponsors are beginning to emerge as well for the event in its 44th year, including Heartland Bank, which organizers recently announced would be the Presenting Sponsor of this year's festival.
The overall goal, organizers say, is to return the Tomato Festival to a more community-oriented celebration. Changes visitors will see include a two-day festival versus five days held in years past and a new venue.
"We're moving it from Civic Park back to the center of Reynoldsburg to Huber Park where it was for many, many years," said Mary Hudson, executive director of the Reynoldsburg Visitors and Communities Activities Bureau.
The move to Huber Park - where the festival hasn't been held in more than a decade - allows more residents to access the festival by foot or bike and provides a more "cozy" atmosphere, Hudson said.
"I know cozy sounds funny for an outdoor event, but that's what we're trying to do," she said.
This year's event will be held Friday and Saturday, Aug. 14 and 15 - a few weeks prior to the September date residents have come to know for the Tomato Festival. The move on the calendar will allow organizers a break from competing against Labor Day events and will take place prior to school going back in session.
Instead of carnival rides, the festival will feature obstacle courses, games and inflatable bouncers and moonwalks. Food will take on a more local flavor as well.
"Instead of the carnival vendors, we're bringing in as many civic organizations we can find that will be the vendors," Hudson said.
There also will be a juried arts and craft show and entertainment planned for both days.
"As we always do, we'll have the main tent where you'll be able to look at all the tomato products," Hudson said.
The annual Fitness Challenge will kick off activities on the Saturday morning of the festival, with a 5K and 10K run planned, as well as the Raider Inline Roll - one of few inline skating half marathons held in Central Ohio, organizers say.
"The Tomato Festival is the city's signature event and I think it is important to continue to have community-based events such as this and the farmer's market," Mayor Brad McCloud said.
The goal, Hudson said, is to continue working with the community to see what works and what doesn't work and apply that knowledge in the coming years so the festival can continue to remain a part of Reynoldsburg's heritage.
"With the economy the way it is, this is homegrown, stay in town," Hudson said. "Hopefully from here it will grow. We'll ask people what they want to see next time."