The Rose Restival floats are no longer decked with flowers grown in Portland—or even Oregon.

Moreover, while the creation of the entire parade—from the theme to the design and construction of the floats—
was handed over to a local professional parade company (Studio Concepts, a Northwest Portland float-building company) in 1996, the floats are no longer decked with flowers grown in Portland—or even Oregon. The tens of thousands of roses needed for the floats come from South America or Mexico, wherever Studio Concepts owner Gene Dent’s wholesaler can find the cheapest price.

In losing sight of its roots, the Rose Festival has lost its soul, and is casting about for ways to lure the droves of Portland newcomers, many of whom have no understanding of the festival’s history or even why Portland was called the “Rose City” in the first place (to celebrate the thousands of rose bushes that had been planted curbside throughout the city in honor of the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition). But in that respect, the Rose Festival is hardly alone. Steve Schmader, president of the International Festivals & Events Association, a membership organization for more than 3,000 festivals around the world, says that organizers of practically every major public event—from California’s Tournament of Roses to the Kentucky Derby—are struggling with ways to attract a new generation of fairgoers.

Rose Festival organizers, too, realize that something is wrong. “We understand that the event needs to evolve,” says Jeff Curtis, the Portland Rose Festival Foundation’s executive director and a former marketing account executive for the Seattle Mariners. “But we don’t have all the answers.”