He's now eyeing marquee examples such as the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. to figure out how to encourage businesses to develop their own programming for the Tulip Festival.
In Washington, art galleries, restaurants and other diverse businesses offer events associated with the Cherry Blossom Festival, he told delegates at the Eggs n' Icons breakfast co-hosted by OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.
It's a situation that is just beginning in Ottawa this year. As examples, Vintage Wings, a heritage airplane flying group, will do a fly-over for the first time. Purple Forge built an iPhone app.
"Some say, 'Who needs a tulip festival' ?" Mr. Luxton asked. In his mind, all festivals are opportunities for a city to brand itself. For example, skating on the canal takes on more significance when it is attached to Winterlude.
The Tulip Festival has always been "an orphaned child" in Ottawa, he said, passed along from entity to entity. It was formed under the Ottawa Board of Trade and had stints under the umbrellas of organizations such as the National Capital Commission.
In 2006, the co-founder of OBJ and former CEO of bomb-detection company Allen-Vanguard was named Tulip Festival chair. His job was to rescue the struggling and now independent festival from possible bankruptcy.
When he arrived, according to OBJ files, several rainy, brisk springs caused the festival to have $750,000 in debt by October 2006. Mr. Luxton brokered a deal with creditors to give the festival's remaining $65,000 in assets and an additional $35,000 from him to satisfy all debts.
He then moved the emphasis from weather-dependent concerts and tulip viewings to a fuller festival with speakers talking about the arts, science and other topics.
Today, his emphasis is more on encouraging BIAs to offer their own programming. Elgin Street businesses (not a formal BIA as of yet) have stepped up to the plate, and he's hoping to see more in future years, he said.
The festival also moved events this year from expensive NCC lands to more affordable locations such as Chinatown and the ByWard Market.
The Tulip Festival was originally formed six decades ago to honour Canada's contribution in liberating Holland in the Second World War, and Ottawa's special role in sheltering Queen Juliana of the Netherlands and her young family during that time.
When Queen Juliana was about to give birth to Princess Margriet in 1943, Parliament temporarily declared the queen's hospital room extraterritorial to Canada, which allowed the girl to have full Dutch citizenship.
Wednesday's breakfast attracted several special guests from the Tulip Festival, including past chair Ed Macies and board members Lola Macies, Louisa Zlepnig and Bill Zlepnig. (The Zlepnigs are now owners of the Southway Hotel & Conference Centre, and the Macies owners of the Best Western Plus Macies Hotel).
The delegates had managed to attract Queen Juliana to attend the 1967 edition of the Tulip Festival on a shoestring budget. That year, as often happens in May, a snowstorm hit and covered the tulips just before the queen arrived.
The Zlepnigs and Macies had a novel solution that saved the day, Mr. Luxton recalled.
"They got down on their knees, on the tulip beds, and successfully, honest to God, blow-dried the tulips," he said. The anecdote drew spontaneous applause from the audience.