For the fourth year in a row, there will be no Rondo Days celebration in St. Paul.
But Gayle Smaller, chairman of the board of Rondo Avenue Inc., said the festival isn't going away permanently. It's coming back bigger and better, over several days and at several sites, in 2024.
While the festival has been derailed by a number of factors — from the pandemic to the murder of George Floyd to the rising cost of security — Smaller said the focus now is creating an event that appeals to a younger and more diverse demographic.
"Really just broaden it out, while keeping the underlying history and significance in place," Smaller said Wednesday. "We really had no intention of doing it this year. The goal was to bring it back in 2024, while filling the generational gap."
Rondo Days was started in 1983 by Floyd Smaller, Gayle Smaller's father, and Marvin Anderson to remember and celebrate what had once been St. Paul's vibrant, predominantly Black neighborhood surrounding the former Rondo Avenue. In the late 1950s and 1960s, planning and construction of Interstate 94 cut that community geographically in half while removing hundreds of homes and businesses.
Rondo Days' founding board members are now in their 80s and are finding it harder to stay involved, Gayle Smaller said, but the surrounding neighborhood looks very different demographically. Future Rondo Days need to have broader appeal, he said.
Rather than a large, single-day event in a park with a parade, Smaller said the idea moving forward is to host a variety of events at area parks and businesses — from a brunch honoring the neighborhood's history to performances and parades appealing to the present.
"The community that was once here doesn't exist anymore," he said. "But we're building an even bigger event. It's really going to be about, what does the celebration look like now? We're excited."
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, who grew up in Rondo, said in a statement Wednesday that he "cherished" Rondo Days growing up and was "disappointed to see it canceled" this year.
"We stand ready to partner with the organizers as they rethink and re-establish this beloved community gathering," Carter said.
In a letter to the community confirming that there will be no festival this year, Smaller said the work now will be to reflect the demographics and interests of Rondo's new residents, while still honoring its past.
"In regards to next steps, we will be adding new board members starting [Aug. 1], and have begun building a solid foundation to ensure that the Legacy of our founders and the community that raised them continues," he wrote, "and is held in the brightest of light as we honor one of the country's brightest historically Black communities."