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Festival proposes city pay to use trademark

By Judy Reed

 

It was 1939, when Cedar Springs Clipper editor Nina Babcock said the businesses decided to tag Cedar Springs as the “Red Flannel Town” and hold a festival. The name stuck, and has been used cooperatively by the city and the festival for many years. The recognizable logo of a pair of long johns hanging on the clothesline and the words “Red Flannel Town” or “Red Flannel Festival” can be seen all over the city—on street signs, city trucks, letterhead, the water tower, and signs welcoming people to Cedar Springs.

That could change, however, if the city decides it cannot afford a licensing agreement recently proposed by the Red Flannel Festival for $8,000—the same amount the city told the Festival last year they would need to start paying to cover services the city provides, such as police protection at the Grand Lodge, DPW work, etc. for Red Flannel weekends.

At budget time last year, the City of Cedar Springs had a deficit of $55,000, and cut services to all community organizations, and also made cuts to city staff. “We had to cut so deep that no one was immune,” City Manager Christine Burns told the Post last year.

They city decided to phase in the cuts to the Festival, and donors came forward to help cover the difference. The two entities completed an agreement for four years with the Festival offering to pay $8,000 each year to the city for services rendered.

According to documents the Post obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the RFF is now proposing a licensing agreement for the city’s use of the Festival’s trademark—for $8,000 per year, through 2015. Festival president Michele Andres said it’s difficult to determine what the trademark is worth. “What is the cost of someone’s identity and brand for 72 years? It’s been a shared responsibility—a quid pro quo. Now that seems to be over. The Red Flannel ad hoc committee thought that $8,000 would be cost neutral to both parties—to put it back where it used to be,” explained Andres.

The first indication that there was a problem with the city using the trademarked logos and text came in December, when the city ordered and began selling Red Flannel license plates and frames for the library fundraising program. According to Mayor Charlie Watson, Mayor Pro-Tem Christine Fahl was notified by the Red Flannel Festival committee that there was an issue of trademark infringement, and he told city staff to pull the plates until they could work through the issue. The Festival was on hiatus from November through January, and the Festival ad hoc committee (with three members from City Council—Watson, Fahl, and Pat Capek) met with the Festival committee.

According to documents and checks and invoices obtained by the Post, the RFF wrote the city a check for the license plates. Burns said the understanding was that the city would reimburse them next August for the plates they sold. The city then decided to write a check back to them right away, assuring them they would sell them all. But it was returned by the Festival, and they are working with the library to sell the plates. You can buy them at City Hall or the library (see story on page 7)

So why did the Festival pick now to enforce trademark rules with the city? “Obviously we support the library. But the board felt like it’s their duty to protect the trademarks,” explained Andres. “It’s created confusion—is it the city or the festival? We only generate revenue through donations or sales of our products, and we need to protect that. Anyone who wants to use trademarked items must get approval first.”

The RFF holds state trademarks on at least 10 different phrases and logos related to Red Flannels and the Festival is working on federal approval.

During the years that H.H. Cutler owned the main trademarks, only the Chamber of Commerce had rights to the marks, for $1 a year. That did not extend to the Festival or the city, according to a letter written to City Manager Frank Walsh in 1996 by lawyers for the children’s clothing manufacturer. Cutler later closed down.

The Post asked Burns what it would cost to remove the trademarked insignia from city property, if council decided to reject the Festival’s proposal. She wasn’t sure. “It would depend on whether it had to happen all at once or in phases,” she said.

Mayor Watson feels both sides want to work diligently to come to a compromise. “I feel both sides recognize we should work together for the betterment of the community,” he said.

“Working closely together benefits both the city and the Festival, and the community, with the economic impact the Festival brings,” noted Andres. “It’s critical that both organizations have open, honest, communication. We can’t do it without each other.”

The city will meet with the city’s lawyer on Thursday to discuss the proposal. According to Watson, they could come back with a counter offer, recommend council accept it, or that they deny it. He didn’t know yet what they would decide.

What do you think? Do you think the Festival should charge the city to use the logos? Do city taxpayers want the city to pay to use the trademark? Or is it time to develop something new? Send us a letter to the editor with your thoughts to news@cedarspringspost.com, and be sure to include your name, phone number and city or township.

 

By the numbers

Red Flannel Festival President Michele Andres told the Post last year that the 2011 budget for the Festival was about $90,000. To show how much the Red Flannel Festival has grown, total gross assets on the Festival’s 2010 tax return (the latest year available) were shown as $233,902. In 2004, the total gross assets were $4,625.

The 2010 return showed net total revenue of $57,346, with net expenses of $33,016. Net assets, including cash and savings, was listed at $130,250.

Schedule O showed gross expenses of Festival events at $45,161; and other expenses (including building and other expenses) at $16,489, for a total of $61,650. The largest single expense on Schedule O is advertising/printing, at a cost of $16,381. Gross income from fundraisers and events is listed at $65,940. The event that brought in the most money was the Grand Lodge, at $25,607 and the cost was $7,515.

 

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12 Responses to “Festival proposes city pay to use trademark”

  1. Cletus J Hossenpeppa says:

    I propose the city host a contest to recreate a city logo! Crowdsource it using the residents. Shame on the RFF… We dont need a festival anyhoo.

  2. Trisha dart says:

    This is an early April fools joke right. When people ask where I’m from they say oh the town with red flannels. That is what we are known for. You can’t take that away.

  3. mike says:

    The RFF ladies and gentlemen!

    Nothing more to say, the action speaks for its self.

  4. William Wheeler says:

    This have everything to do with the relationship between the committee and the City Manager. As the article says…its been a cooperation in the past. The only reason it isn’t is because the CM sprang on the RFF charging them for city services.

    I do think the RFF needs to be knocked down a peg or 2. They think they run the town. I think it’s time for “Cedar-fest”, move it up a month for nicer weather and tell the RFF we’re no longer interested. It will be hard to protect that precious logo without income.

    Just an idea….

  5. Jared Grindle says:

    i think that its complete b.s. I’ve been in this town myself for 24 years now. and yea i’m from the town where we celebrate red underwear. i think its bull after all these years to try to charge the city for its own logo. and i agree with mr. wheeler red flannel day should be moved up to the last weekend of august. it would be way nicer weather, and then we could bypass this whole thing. i can’t believe that they want to do this. after how many years of it being the exact same logo and same thing. people are way to worried about money these days. lets make sure those who have money don’t run out. but screw the little man in the back that begging for scraps because he’s so dang broke.

  6. Jared Grindle says:

    i mean without the city in the first place, there would have NEVER been a RFF.

  7. Jeannie Belk says:

    The RFF is the only thing Cedar Springs has going for it, why has the city not kept control of this festival. A new loco is just wrong in so many ways, leave well enough alone. We enloy or festival lets be grown ups and play nice.

  8. April Victorson says:

    This is absurd…Cedar Springs is know for its “Red Flannels”. The RFF needs to stop worrying about little stuff such as “Trademarks” and value their own city and stop being selfish. According to the 2010 tax returns RFF is doing just fine. So leave “OUR TOWN” alone!!! Cedar Springs is “Red Flannel Town” Why? mess with a huge piece of history? So what’s next taking out the “Red” too? I see this costing more to change the logo then it would for the RFF to leave an historical landmark of our town ALONE!!!

  9. I was intrigued by Ms. Andres’ statement, “is it the city or the festival?” This is not an either-or, but a both-and. Without the City’s support, there would be no Red Flannel Festival; without the Red Flannel Festival, the City wouldn’t have a signature event.

    The City made a decision based on budgetary constraints, and donors stepped up to cover the RFF’s deficit. This is probably what should continue. A true win-win for everyone.

  10. Kurt H. says:

    Should be the opposite way around, Considering the city is advertising the “Red Flannel Festival” by using their logo. They need to think of it as free advertising.

  11. johnny says:

    small town politics and problems with trailer parks cedar springs has not and will not ever change this is why the rest of west michigan laughs at us.

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