AUGUSTA — In any other year, the countdown would be on for the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual Kenney Awards in late January.

But this year as central Maine approaches the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the business organization is shifting the event from an indoor black-tie celebration at the Augusta Civic Center to an outdoor event on the shore of the Kennebec River to celebrate its 90th anniversary.

Katie Doherty Contributed photo

Katie Doherty, president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the “Kenneys” will be held from 4:30-10 p.m. on July 15 at Mill Park in Augusta as a ticketed event.

“It’s still going to be a big affair,” Doherty said. “We’re going to have a big tent, a stage and a band. And we’ll be adding fireworks over the river to end the night to help celebrate the 90th anniversary of the chamber.”

Doherty said the chamber will partner with local restaurants to supply the appetizers and meals at the event to showcase their offerings to out-of-town visitors who may be attending the event.

Half the park will be given over to parking to accommodate attendees. In the past, the event has drawn more than 750 people.

The last time the event was held live was 2020.

Earlier this year, the Kenney Awards were postponed until the end of March and held virtually. At the time, restrictions on public gatherings were still in place and the first COVID-19 vaccines were being given to people 50 and older.

The Kenney Nominations Committee met in December and presentations to 2022 award winners and nominees will be made in January and February.

In years past, the Large Business of the Year, the Small Business of the year and the Peter G. Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award winners are announced in advance. Those attending the annual banquet have voted via text to choose winners for the Cynergy Young Professional Award, the Community Service Award and the President’s Circle Award.

While celebrating members’ accomplishment has been an annual event for decades, the Chamber of Commerce introduced the Kenney Awards in 2016 as a black tie event in a nod to awards season. This summer’s event won’t be formal, but it won’t informal, either.

The Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce was incorporated in 1932, although it had existed under different names for more than a decade before, including the Augusta Chamber of Commerce.

Doherty noted that over the last nine decades the organization has recognized that it has been adapting to meet changes around it through reorganizations and refocusing its efforts.

“That’s still what we do every day, completely always adapting,” she said.

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