Randall Tomaras wants to pump up Sequim’s economy by using hot air balloons as a big, beautiful drawing card.
Tomaras, a professional photographer and events coordinator, says if the upcoming Sequim Balloon Festival is done right, he and his band of volunteers will bring more than 3,500 visitors to Sequim in September 2012 to spend money and enjoy the sight of balloons in flight and balloons aglow. Some visitors even will have the opportunity to take a balloon ride — though of course a fee will be required.
Tomaras’ plans are sprawling and may include bumping up the three-day event to as many as 10 days and establishing additional events across the entire peninsula.
“The balloons are just a catalyst for bringing people in,” Tomaras said at a steering committee meeting held this week in Sequim. He repeatedly emphasized that the event is as much “an economic exercise as it is a fun event.”
In fact Tomaras is a bubbling fountain of ideas, from car shows to bike races to a street fair — maybe even an Elvis contest.
He’s already recruited a number of people who are bringing important resources to bear, including Bret Wirta, owner of Wirta Hospitality Worldwide, whose properties include Sequim’s Holiday Inn Express and the Quality Inn. Wirta will handle the business end of the Sequim Balloon Festival while Tomaras will serve as the executive director of the event.
Tomaras also has an agreement with Fred and Loretta Grant, who own 40 acres of farmland just across East Washington Street from the Holiday Inn Express. They’ve agreed to allow the use of the land as the staging site for a number of the ballooning events, including the morning mass ascensions.
Tomaras says it’s an ideal spot because it’s the least windy location in the area.
While noting that hot air balloons can’t go up when the wind is greater than 10 mph or in the rain, Tomaras said his research showed that the festival, planned for Sept. 1-3, will take advantage of the driest, least windy days of the year.
Tomaras also noted that getting the tourists here is the tough part — getting them to stay a little longer and spend a little more is easier. To accomplish that, organizers also will work with towns and attractions across the peninsula, including, perhaps, Lake Crescent, Sol Duc, Hurricane Ridge and even those on the western Washington coastline.
Tomaras also touted his own qualifications as an events coordinator, noting he’s a former member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and a “sports consultant” to foreign nations.
Tomaras said he plans to continue working on the plans with members of the steering committee to create the agenda until Aug. 24, when he anticipates they together will announce the plans to the broader public.
The number 24 is apparently significant: Tomaras finished his talk by noting that the goal of the Sequim Balloon Festival, and all of its attendant events and spending opportunities, is to have a $24 million impact on the local economy.