Ex-employee: Foundation dropped the ball on Holiday Parade

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by Jeremy Rogalski / KHOU 11 News I-Team

khou.com

Posted on August 7, 2013 at 5:18 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 8 at 10:39 AM

HOUSTON -- The Holiday Parade in downtown Houston is as much a part of Thanksgiving Day as turkey, pumpkin pie and football. Now the longtime tradition is in jeopardy.

The Houston Festival Foundation announced Wednesday it has ended its production of the parade because of money troubles. HFF CEO and President Kim Stoilis acknowledged the foundation is broke.

"We are laying it all out there," Stoilis said. "Full disclosure: This is where we’re at, we can only produce events we can pay for."

Stoilis said the foundation owes nearly $400,000 to Chase and Comerica banks and $85,000 to the City of Houston. It can't make payroll and can't pay its vendors. The non-profit organization even sold the Holiday Parade floats last month to the city of Hidalgo for a small fraction of their cost.

The explanation from Stoilis?

“No one was able to get us the money, the city wasn’t able to get the money, to raise funds for this parade,” Stollis said.

11 News: “But isn’t that your job as CEO?”

Stoilis: “We have sponsorship directors, we did not secure the money.”

But a longtime Houston Festival Foundation employee said the organization should not be pointing fingers.

“We can’t say it was the city’s fault because the city doesn’t raise money for that event,” said Kayler Williams.

Williams worked for the Houston Festival Foundation for 30 years. As Administrative Director, she helped produce the Holiday Parade for the past 15 years.

Williams: “The onus belongs to the Houston Festival Foundation.”

11 News: “And did it drop the ball here?”

Williams: “I believe so, yes.”

Williams said the foundation did let the City of Houston know it was pulling out back in January. But it never made the decision public, so there was no public push to save the parade.

"Nobody knew about it,” Williams said. “And if it would have gone out, maybe there would have been someone that stepped up to the plate to say ‘what will it take’?”

The explanation from the foundation?

“There was a hope that someone else would produce the event,” Stoilis said. “You never want to say I’m taking something away without being able to give something back.”

11 News requested an interview with Mayor Annise Parker. Instead, she sent the following statement:

"I am disappointed HFF is having financial difficulties and is walking away from producing the annual holiday parade and has sold all of the event’s assets. The parade is a tradition that has been enjoyed by thousands who come downtown to experience it in person and by a large television audience that reaches far beyond Houston. I am certain today’s news has many asking, ‘What happens now?’ I personally want to see it continue. Discussions are already underway by various parties to see whether the parade can be saved."

More than 400,000 people lined the streets of downtown Houston in 2012 to watch the floats, marching bands and giant balloons pass by. Another two million watched the live syndicated broadcast from home.

The first Holiday Parade was in 1949 when Santa rode his sleigh from Union Station to the downtown Foley's.

The HFF began producing it in 1997.

H-E-B has sponsored the event since 2007. They issued this statement Wednesday afternoon: Naturally, H-E-B was most disappointed to learn the Houston Festival Foundation has liquidated its parade assets and chose no longer to produce the annual parade. H-E-B has been a loyal parade sponsor since 2007 and we are hopeful a producer will be identified to continue this long standing Houston tradition." 

The HFF said its primary focus will continue to be producing the Houston International Festival.

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