|During the 2015 Budget a plan was reviewed and approved to transfer special events from The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) to The Woodlands Township. The Board approved this move to be effective in 2016. The Parks and Recreation Department has produced the events in 2016 "status-quo" as the CVB had previously to obtain a better understanding of the events and if enhancements could/should be made. Parks and Recreation staff have prepared recommendations for changes to the Red, Hot and Blue event in the form of a conceptual plan for Board consideration.
Redefined Event Purpose: Red, Hot and Blue Festival is a family oriented “home town” event which celebrates America’s Birthday on behalf of the residents of the community.
Event Concept: Trying to produce any event for 45,000+ people in a relatively small park area and retain a “home town” feel is a challenge. However there are a number of changes to the Festival that can be used to create this feel. After the last Red, Hot and Blue Festival, staff met a number of times to review how the event could be improved and have developed the following conceptual plan. The goal of the plan is to expand from the main festival site of Red, Hot and Blue from Town Green Park to include the entire Waterway, other parks around in Town Center and around Lake Woodlands and potentially to include Rob Fleming Park in the Village of Creekside Park. The conceptual plan calls for moving many of the vendors, food booths, ticket booths, etc., to outside the main grass area at Town Green Park, spreading the activities outside of the park and along the Waterway, and to other sites. This would allow more lawn space for community members to enjoy the park with their family and friends and improve public safety, traffic congestion and crowd control. The main items located in Town Green Park would be the stages, first aid/safety booth, and children’s games/activities (Attachment A - Conceptual Layout of Town Green Park).
In addition, spreading the event to outlying parks and other public areas would afford the residents the ability to determine what type of experience they prefer to have as part of the Red, Hot and Blue Festival. The concept is to extend the Red, Hot and Blue Festival activities to other areas of the community and bring in other venues and allied events (Northshore Park- Concert in the Park, Hughes Landing- Rock the Row, Waterway Square, Live at Night, Rob Fleming Park, Arts in the Parks), into the Festival - thereby Red, Hot and Blue Festival would not be just at Town Green Park, but an entire community event.
Marketing/Advertising Plan: The primary audience of the event would be the residents of The Woodlands and the immediate surrounding areas. Advertising and marketing would not be conducted state wide or at the greater Houston Market as in previous years. With that direction, the marketing and advertising would reflect the local community draw area, thus the following platforms would be used: The Villager, Township's Action Guide, Community Magazine, Woodlands On-Line, Township social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) handouts at pools (14) and boat houses (2), leverage sponsorship with the 4th of July Committee (Parade) to hand out information on Red, Hot and Blue, electronic signage on roads (parking information), etc.
In the past the marketing/advertising area was spread out across the State - Houston, Pearland, Sugarland, Katy, Austin, College Station, San Antonio, etc. One reason why special events were transferred from the CVB to the Township was due in part that these events did not draw significant people from outside the area for over night stays. With this understanding of the market for the RHB Festival event (and other Township Special Events) it may be prudent to review the budget mechanism used for the marketing and advertising dollars for these events. Currently, $156,500 is allocated in the CVB budget for Township produced Townwide events (Red, Hot and Blue, Lighting of the Doves, Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc.). The marketing and advertising services are contracted with an outside third party. A re-allocation of these dollars to the Township's Special Event budget is recommended, whereby the Parks and Recreation Department would work in conjunction with the Township's Community Relations Department to produce the marketing/advertising plans that focuses efforts on the residents of the Township.
Furthermore, there needs to be more timely communication with community members to provide timely updates during the event. During 2016, there was some criticism of the lack of communication when the main fireworks needed to be stopped due to weather issues. Having a dedicated event staff person for the day to update Facebook/Twitter/Snapchat may aid in providing timely information to residents (delays, parking updates, shortest lines for tickets, event pictures- splash day, boat houses, parade, pictures from the various locations, etc).
Event Organization: Staff of The Woodlands Township Parks and Recreation Department were expected to produce the event in the same model as CVB for 2016, which included the use of a third party event producer (Spectrum Events). While the event has been successful using this model, the event has grown tremendously over the past couple of years and an enhanced model has been developed to address the challenges (additional people, locations, services). With that understanding staff will deploy a model that has been used successfully for the various races, i.e. command structure and the use of the third party event producer. An Event Director will manage the entire event and be assisted by two assistant Event Directors. In addition, there will be coordinators of specific areas and sites (safety, security, vendor relations, sponsor relationship, social media coordinator, sponsor area, fireworks, volunteers, Town Green Park, Northshore Park, the Fountains at Waterway Square, Hughes Landing, Rob Fleming Park) etc. Overall, the feeling is by having park and recreation staff address these key areas we can produce a more efficient, safe, secure and effective event that meets the event’s purpose.
Fireworks: During the 2016 Red, Hot and Blue Festival, the main firework demonstration had to be stopped short by 8-10 minutes, due to weather conditions- wind. The wind was carrying ash and debris outside of the identified fall area and the WFD fire inspector stopped the performance. After the event, staff met with the fireworks contractor (Pyro Shows) to review the options to mitigate potential problem area in the future. The largest challenge is that there will be some level of new development adjacent to and near the current main fireworks site (Lake Front extension). For each inch of a firework shell, 70 feet of safety space is required, thus a 6 inch shell would necessitate a fall safety area diameter of 420 feet and an 8” inch shell would require 560 feet. Shells that are part of the “big show” range from 3” up to 8”.
In effort to identify a site that would not be impacted by future development, thus requiring changes to the location of the “big show”, it was assumed that the land near the current site would be developed. The goal with this concept is to have a “final” site for the “big show” as opposed to moving the show even few years due to development and other environmental impacts. Understanding this limitation, staff, with Pyro Shows reviewed other options including shooting fireworks from a barge in Lake Woodlands. Attachment B outlines the conceptual firework plan for 2017 for Red, Hot and Blue, which would have a barge on Lake Woodlands (near Northshore Park). This location would allow for viewing of “big show” from Town Green, Hughes Landing, Southshore Park, The Cove Park, and Northshore Park and it would allow additional safety/fallout area beyond the minimum required.
Supplemental shows, ground effects shows, would be provided at Town Green Park and the Fountains at Waterway Square. Staff continues to review the feasibility of adding a show/event at Rob Fleming Park. A challenge of adding another show at Rob Fleming Park is being able to contract enough qualified fireworks personnel to work on the 4th of July due to the high demand for the profession on that day. The location of the “big show” would further spread event attendees throughout Lake Woodlands, Town Center and Hughes Landing areas thus further enhancing the residents experience.
As a result of the wind during the 2016 show, The Township has received a credit of $18,000 for unused shells. A challenge with using the credit is the fact that the contract with Pyro Shows expires on December 31, 2016. In part to obtain the credit and due to Pyro Shows safety record, willingness to work with The Woodlands Township on show design, quality of fireworks, etc, it is recommended to amend the current Agreement with Pyro Shows for three years (2017-2019). Staff recommends the dollar value of the Agreement be $132,000 per year (not including the $18,000 credit for 2017) for use at various events that have fireworks (Lighting of The Doves-$10,000, Memorial Day-$10,000, Red, Hot and Blue-$102,000. Fireworks funding for the Red, Hot and Blue Festival could be allocated $20,000 for the show at Town Green Park, $20,000 at Waterway Square, $62,000 for the "big show" at Lake Woodlands) leaving $10,000 for the Labor Day event. The $18,000 credit would be used in the first year to offset any cost related to bringing in a barge for the fireworks and/or a show, if feasible at Rob Fleming Park.
Additional dollars can be allocated to the Red, Hot and Blue Festival fireworks show(s) by reducing the event advertising budget from $35,000 to $15,000 and reallocating the $20,000 to the “big show” and/or Rob Fleming. The advertising budget would include more public - resident education on where to park, best viewing locations, traffic control, etc. and less general marketing of the event.