FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — With less than two weeks until the return of Three Rivers Festival, the board of directors announced a new executive director on Wednesday— Justin Shurley.

“I want to be able to see what this festival can evolve into. I know it’s already a source of pride for a lot of people, and I like being a part of that,” said Shurley.

Shurley replaces Jack Hammer, who was let go in March. Hammer led the festival since 2010.

The TRF board said it conducted an “exhaustive” search to find Shurley, who’s lived in Fort Wayne since 2007. He moved here to work for the Wizards and then for the TinCaps.

“I learned a lot from working for the TinCaps,” said Shurley. “I love how much the TinCaps give back to the community. That’s part of what I also want to show here, that this is a festival put on by the community for the community.”

Prior to his new role as the Three Rivers Festival executive director, he served on the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Board of Directors and Fort Wayne Planning Commission.

“Justin will be a great addition to the festival,” said John Nichter, President of the Three Rivers Festival Board of Directors. “His passion for this festival and connection to his community will lead us into our next chapter.”

The Three Rivers Festival board of directors also introduced a new 50/50 raffle during Wednesday’s press conference. This raffle is anticipated to be the largest in northeast Indiana, splitting “hundreds of thousands of dollars” two ways.

“That’s gonna make someone really life changing money right there, as well as it’ll help the organization,” said Shurley. “I mean we had a really tough year through COVID not able to even host the event last year so that’s where as you know a lot of all of the funding comes from.”

Since Shirley was just named the executive director Wednesday, he said mostly everything is already set in place for this year. This has given him the opportunity to observe the festival with new eyes and determine what needs to stay and what can be fixed for the future.

He expects a big turnout for the festival.

“People are chomping at the bit to get out and get around everyone,” Shurley said. “So we are expecting record numbers. I expect junk food alley to be shoulder to shoulder and for them to run out of fried foods, and find other food to fry.”

The 2021 Three Rivers Festival runs July 9-17. A full schedule of events, including more details on the 50/50 raffle, can be found on the Three Rivers Festival website.