Extravaganza propelling to Peoria this spring: Lake Pleasant to feature fire and water themed signature event

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Over the last year, the city of Peoria has been developing a signature event officials hope will put the city on the map — not just an event that brings in people locally but one that will attract tourists from across the country and bring them back for years to come.

The $315,000 signature event is touted as a fire and water-themed extravaganza that will take place over a weekend this spring, April 17-18.

The marquee component will be a Formula 2 power boat regatta with time trials and championship races. Other components include a choreographed dancing fire show, bonfire event and illuminated jet ski/Flyboarding throughout the weekend. Arts and culinary experiences will also supplement the overall experience with glass blower artist, watercolor artist and culinary villages.

Deputy City Manager Erik Strunk said the city has extensively interviewed nearly a dozen promoters and other event consultants and industry professionals over the last year to develop concepts for a diverse, free event for attendees that could attract a minimum of 25,000 people over two days; an event that could grow in popularity and attendance by at least 10% each year; and one that could eventually develop revenue and sponsorship streams to help offset city financing.

“We have learned a heck of a lot on how to move the needle in Peoria with respect to a signature event and how it ties into economic development, from a tourism perspective, the identity, the branding and we think we’ve assembled, by working with the promoter, a really unique, distinct event we think will help Peoria shine,” Mr. Strunk said.

As part of the fiscal year 2020 budget, and in anticipation of selecting a new signature event, the city council authorized $200,000 in funding to implement the event. A request for proposal was conducted in January 2019, and Chicago-based event consultant Stone Planning was hired to conduct the study and make recommendations for the event.

Neighborhood and Human Services Director Chris Hallett said Stone Planning completed its work in May 2019, and as a result, identified a series of concepts that could be held at different, prominent locations in the city. As part of the study, the city’s special events team contacted six different regional and national professional promoters to identify their concepts and insights for possible events that could be unique to Peoria and the region. Sajur Inc. was identified as being most in alignment with the city’s goals of producing a new signature event, he said.

Event costs

This will be the most expensive city event Peoria has ever funded.

The Hispanic-themed Somos Peoria event, which is offered in September and features a live concert and additional entertainment as well as arts, crafts, shopping, food and alcoholic beverages for adults, costs $180,000.

Mr. Hallett said Somos is the city’s biggest event and has delivered a successful return in revenue year-over-year for the last six years.

The All-American Festival, the city’s Independence Day celebration at the Peoria Sports Complex, is the second biggest event, costing $150,000.

Experts in the field say $250,000 to $500,000 is needed to even consider a signature event.

Mr. Strunk said it will take three to five years to recover that money.

Officials said Stone Planning was lured to Lake Pleasant because it separates Peoria as unique and Sajur developed the fire and water theme. Sajur has a 30-year history of working with the American Power Boat Association and has held races in two other cities.

The promoter has a proven track record with the power boat association and a high success rate, with high increases in growth and attendance and revenue year-over-year, according to city officials.

Mr. Strunk said the city would look to recover revenue, starting with year one.

“We will have sponsorships to offset the cost,” Mr. Strunk said. “But we can’t fund this in perpetuity. The idea is to seed this and grow it and then hopefully at some point in time — those three to five years — relinquish it and have it self-funded by that time.”

The $315,000 is limited to the entertainment costs and does not include aspects such as security and public safety.

Mayor Cathy Carlat said the staging area planned for spectators is quite elevated and a perfect vista for an event like this, but access must be well planned, as attendees will have to walk down a dirt road to get to the viewing area.

“I like that you can see the whole lake,” she said. “Transportation on the inside is going to be really, really important internally. ... There is going to have to be a lot of internal energy spent in making that happen. And so, in addition to this event planner, it’s really going to be up to the city of Peoria to make sure our citizens find this compelling and easy and fun and seamless.”

Peoria as a destination

Mr. Hallett said Stone Planning toured several Peoria venues — Old Town, P83, Peoria Sports Complex, the future Paloma Park and Lake Pleasant. Music, food and bike festivals were considered, with a boat regatta eventually rising to the top, he said.

Peoria’s location also served as a positive with its proximity to an international airport and other major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas, making the event a drivable destination.

“They did a full analysis on a regional and national level of what would be a draw here, provided demographic analysis ... what made Peoria unique and special, and also included recommended promoters,” Mr. Hallett said. “The biggest question we get is, ‘I don’t have a boat, why would I go to a lake?’ We looked at what would attract people to drive 350 miles or to fly here. We are providing multiple opportunities to come to the lake regardless of whether you have a boat, and we do believe it will be a fun and impactful time for all.”

Event details

The signature event will be free to attend with a vehicle fee to get into Lake Pleasant, which already applies for entrance into the Maricopa County park. Officials said there may be an incremental cost per vehicle added.

Recreational Vehicle spots will be available and boat owners may drop anchor in the marina.

Circuit powerboat racing originated in Italy in the early 1980s when it was less safe. Boats were built of thin plywood and the driver sat in an exposed cockpit at the very front of the craft, and serious accidents were not uncommon, according to the F2 UIM World Championship website.

However, today Formula 2 races are safer, with the latest generation of racing machines featuring driver cockpits made of high impact resistant composite material designed in a way to deflect other craft in the event of a collision, according to the website. It is now a popular high energy international sporting event.

Formula 2 inland power boats reach upwards of 200 horsepower, 125 mph and produce a G Force of 4.5 while taking 90 degree turns.

The driver sits in a fully enclosed tiny capsule with very limited visibility competing with other boats, often only inches a part, according to the website.

The Lake Pleasant event will host time trials in the morning followed by multiple heats, then ending with the championship races.

Night and day flyboarding choreographed with lighting effects, pyrotechnics and fireworks will complement the Formula 2 races.

Flyboarding is an extreme water sport in which a water-propelled jet pack is attached to a personal watercraft allowing the user to maneuver and fly as high as 50 feet in the air.

An arts and cultural component will also be offered as part of the signature event.

Mr. Hallett said the promoter has inroads with regional and celebrity artists who will offer themed exhibitions and demonstrations within a glass blower artist village.

A watercolor artist village could also be featured consisting of select artists working cohesively with glass blowers in a collaborative exhibition, as well as stand-alone demonstrations and activities.

There will be interactive experiences throughout these villages, Mr. Hallett said.

“An art component could be developed at the event that could be left on site in Peoria (after the event ends),” he said. 

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