Will Temecula balloon festival grow up, and away?

In much the same way the envelope inside a hot air balloon has a finite capacity, the grounds at Lake Skinner can accommodate only so many people.

This presents a challenge for the nonprofit organization that runs the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival, which has called Lake Skinner County Park home since 1992.

In recent years, the festival, which runs from May 30 through June 1, has pulled in around 40,000 people over its three-day weekend. That’s a regionally respectable number – but officials want to grow the event into something bigger and better.

“We always go back to our mission statement, which is promoting economic growth to the community,” said Carol Popejoy, the festival’s director. More people going to the festival means more visitors staying in hotels and more people becoming familiar with Temecula Valley Wine Country and Old Town Temecula.

“I want 60,000,” said Melody Brunsting, the event’s spokeswoman and marketing guru. Brunsting said she feels the festival – which has a colorful history that includes radio DJ stunts and a big name singer frozen by stagefright – should match the numbers put up by Temecula’s Rod Run.

To do so, Brunsting has been focusing much of her efforts on Friday night and Sunday afternoon, which pale, attendance-wise, to the all-day and all-night party that is Saturday.

Friday night has in recent years become “date night,” and Brunsting has worked to promote the romantic balloon glows that light up the evening. The festival also started opening the gates to the grounds at 3 p.m., instead of 5 p.m., to reduce traffic congestion. Sunday is family day, and the festival promotes the deep discounts for members of the military and the wide array of family friendly activities, such as motocross and BMX exhibitions.

If this effort succeeds, the festival then will be faced with a big decision: stay at Lake Skinner or move it to a location that can handle bigger crowds.

“We always keep our eyes open,” said Popejoy.

Expanding the brand

Scott Vinton, chairman of the Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival Association’s board, said last week that there is no level in mind when discussing the growth of the festival.

In 2010, Riverside County pumped millions into the renovation of the stage at the festival grounds. Around the same time, the committee that books musical acts started to bring in bands that resonated with a younger demographic.

This combination has worked out well, Vinton said, and festival officials are expecting that this year’s Saturday concert will break last year’s record-setting turnout.

“We’ve definitely had lots more people coming for the shows. I can’t say if it’s driven by the acts or the stage itself,” he said.

Roads to the grounds also were recently renovated by the county, though they routinely jam with festival traffic.

In addition to her work boosting Friday and Sunday, Brunsting also has been talking with Temecula Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau about making the festival the centerpiece of a weeklong series of events that would include branded activities in Old Town, the Pechanga Resort & Casino and Wine Country.

About 40 to 50 percent of the audience for the festival is people from outside the area, Brunsting said. She noted the bureau wants those people to stay here at least a couple of days.
That game plan is wholeheartedly endorsed by Vinton, who said he’s been happy to see the festival entwining itself more closely with local wineries.

“I’m always wanting to find something new to add to the festival for their experience,” he said.

Options limited
If a move were to happen, it could happen quickly.

Popejoy said the festival, which raises money for local charities, is on a year-to-year lease with the county so it could, literally, pull up stakes after this year’s extravaganza and settle somewhere else.

Some of the locations that have been discussed are The Diamond in Lake Elsinore, Vail Lake and the Temecula Downs Event Center, an expansive property that includes the Galway Downs Equestrian Center.

Lake Skinner offers scenic views and brings many visitors through the Temecula Valley Wine Country. And Popejoy said access to the site has been improved in recent years.
“We’ve got it down to a science,” Popejoy said, praising the volunteers who manage traffic flow, the California Highway Patrol, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and off-duty U.S. Marines.

Over the years, there have been proposals to boost the number of shuttles that work the event in efforts to increase capacity. Vinton said getting everyone together at the end of the show is sometimes difficult and, once they’re herded onto the shuttle, they’ll be stuck in the same traffic as a car when they leave.

Popejoy said festival officials are focused on growing the event gradually so that the quality of the offerings – food, beer, music and wine – can be maintained.  “We don’t want to grow ‘boom’ overnight,” she said.

Brunsting agreed, saying that as the festival gets bigger and more sophisticated – it even has an app this year – officials want to maintain the charm and spirit that has long infused the event.

“It’s still an effort of community pride that pulls it off every year,” she said.

via – Press Enterprise.