Efforts to bring sand sculpting back to Imperial Beach continue to move forward, and the next few months may be critical in deciding whether a sandcastle competition is held in the city next year.
Headed by Kiwanis Club President Deric Fernandez and PR firm manager Julia Simms, the plan begins with reviving the Sun & Sea Festival. The details are still being hammered out and could change, but the Sun & Sea Festival would take place in spring or fall 2013.
A day prior to the adult's sandcastle competition, a parade, pancake breakfast and kids sandcastle competition will be held.
For the Sun & Sea Festival, a critical question will not be how to attract people, but how to keep them away. Organizers want to employ a "reverse marketing" campaign to shrink the event down to about 40,000 people, or about 10 percent the size of the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition.
After 31 years, U.S. Open competitions came to a close in 2011, but grew to become the largest in the world, attracting an estimated 400,000 people at its height. No one really knows how many people will actually show up if a competition is held in 2013, Simms said.
"Maybe it will backfire and we only get 20,000 that day, and we'll know how to structure next year," she said.
One major part of the reverse marketing strategy: access to the beach may be blocked and an admission fee charged in order to control crowd size and raise money.
"We plan to have barricades up at 2nd Street and restrict access," Fernandez told Imperial Beach Chamber of Commerce members at their meeting earlier this month.
A meeting with representatives from the Sheriff's Department has not taken place yet, but smaller crowds may be critical to avoid high sheriff security costs, Simms said.
Forcing attendees to pay admission may also attract "a more desirable audience," Simms said, instead of "gangs and the hoodlums the sheriff's department was worried about in years past."
A private firm may also be asked to help with security.
Sun & Sea Festival attendees may be charged $5 per adult and $1 per child with family and online purchase discounts possibly available.
Imperial Beach residents would be allowed free entry with an ID card or proof of residency, Simms said.
Beach access can be limited for a period of time if an event is not held during the summer, but charging admission and restricting access may require a permit, said Le McEeachern, District Regulatory Supervisor of the California Coastal Commission.
Other tactics that may be employed to limit attendance:
- keep "sandcastle competition" out of the title
- no street vendors
- no more all-day concerts to accompany sand sculpting
- paid parking at designated sites only
Sponsors will be sought to help pay for the event. A sponsorship proposal will be sent to the Port of San Diego at the end of October.
A detailed event plan and final budget are scheduled to be completed by the end of November.
Meetings with local volunteers may begin in December.
Unlike the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition, part of the focus of the Sun & Sea Festival will be to encourage shopping at local businesses. Instead of 100-plus street vendors, local businesses will be encouraged to participate and hold sidewalk sales.
This will not include businesses away from the waterfront, but people who come to Imperial Beach within two weeks of the event to make purchases of $20 or more will get a free ticket, Simms said.
At the IB Chamber of Commerce October meeting, Simms and Fernandez asked the IB chamber to be a sponsor and include the event in their liability insurance.
Some chamber members offered thanks and congratulations for doing the necessary work to bring a sandcastle competition back to Imperial Beach, while others were more skeptical about yet-to-be-decided details.
"Every business owner on Seacoast Drive is going to tell you that they want it back, cause they funded the rest of their year in that one weekend," said Athena Hohenberg, who was part of the U.S. Open Sandcastle Committee.
No studies were ever conducted to measure the economic impact of the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition.
Business Improvement District chair Mike Osborne said he refuses to vote on the matter until the fate of money made by the Sun & Sea Festival is clearly defined.
Simms suggested that the chamber could receive additional funds and use the money to pay for future Sun & Sea festivals and other events.
Initial estimates are that $20,000 may be raised in the event's first year, Simms said.
Simms marketing firm San Diego PR would lead most efforts to organize the Sun & Sea Festival together with volunteers and local groups like the Kiwanis Club of Imperial Beach and the Fleet Reserve Association.
San Diego PR would be paid an undetermined amount for helping to coordinate the event.
Her other firm, Che, formerly known as J Simms Agency, went out of business earlier this year. Che represented the City of Imperial Beach until July when the city canceled their $15,000 contract to save money.
Che also acted as the marketing agency for the U.S. Open Sandcastle Competition in the past.
Earlier this year, Simms led an attempt to get a 2012 sandcastle competition going, but that effort was abandoned "due to budget issues, road repairs on Seacoast Drive and the sand replenishment project," a statement read.
Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact Deric Fernandez at email@example.com or call 619-400-9037.
What do you think about charging people to come to the Sun & Sea Festival? Can attendance be kept at or below 40,000? Is it OK to restrict beach access, even for a day? Share in comments.