Ottawa: Tulip festival to move out of NCC parks

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The cost of staging the Canadian Tulip Festival on National Capital Commission property is forcing organizers of the popular springtime tourist attraction to shift gears.

This year, the annual celebration will move toward a community-based model, where programming is spread across various business districts around the city.

The changes are a long time coming, said David Luxton, chairman of the festival, but were set in stone after costs associated with using NCC lands escalated dramatically this year, to the point where "the economics no longer made sense."

Mr. Luxton would not say how much the pricing differed from previous years, except to say that it "jumped very significantly." All festivals in NCC parks pay a bond covering the cost to return the site back to its original condition.

Community associations, such as business improvement areas, will join forces with the festival to find venues in their areas for activities and to increase the amount of animation.

"If you visit any city and go into a park for a festival that's one thing," Mr. Luxton said, "but if the whole town is animated, that's bigger and better."

Programming will take place in areas such as the ByWard Market, Little Italy and Chinatown, which will drive more visitors into local businesses, Mr. Luxton said.

The International Pavilion, a festival mainstay including international performers and cuisine, will move from Major's Hill Park to a new, as of yet undecided, location.

The NCC will continue to plant their annual quota of almost one million bulbs, and tulips will continue to bloom in the old tulip festival stomping grounds.

But Mr. Luxton said he isn't worried that the festival's dramatic shift will cause a disconnect or impede its popularity.

"If our marketing is done the right way ... I think it will be very good for the city and for business. There will be lots more for people to see and do."

Moving out of NCC parks will allow the festival to allocate more funds to community organizations who have long wanted to participate and perform in the festival, such as school bands and local performers.

Plans have yet to be finalized, and the programming line-up and event locations will be announced in late March or early April.

"I think that over time, we will make it (the festival) stronger than ever this way," Mr. Luxton said. "There are limitations to the scale and type of things that can be done on NCC lands, and this new model eliminates a lot of barriers."

The first Canadian Tulip festival was held in 1953 to coincide with the tulip's annual bloom. It now claims to be the largest tulip festival in the world and will be held from May 4 to 21 this year.

In 1945, the Dutch royal family sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa in gratitude to Canadians for sheltering Dutch royalty for three years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the Second World War.

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