The batch of new tourist-friendly events that debuted this spring and summer in Tomball and Magnolia have left city officials with experiential knowledge and hope for the future.
Tomball tested out three new events—The Honky Tonk Music festival, the Rails & Tails Mudbug festival and the Memorial Day Weekend Chili Challenge. The Magnolia Love Bug Fest—the city's attempt to brand itself with a three-day festival—wrapped up in June.
Mike Baxter, marketing director for the City of Tomball, said things could not have gone better.
"We had good attendance for all our events, [and] we got positive comments," he said. "It really increased the buzz in town."
Barbara Tague, chairwoman of the Tomball Downtown Merchants Association, said the increased buzz had an immediate positive effect on business.
"Our business owners across the [downtown Tomball] district have shown a steady and marked improvement in sales and in the many new customers that are visiting downtown," she said.
Tague estimated that the average increase in business for downtown shops was between 10–20 percent during event weekends. Some businesses reached as high as 40 percent, she said.
The main purpose of the first-year events was not to raise money, but to generate buzz about Tomball as a destination for entertainment, which is why admission to all of the events was free, Baxter said. The events also proved helpful as test runs to find out what worked, he said.
"We're learning how to best lay everything out—where to put the music, where to put the food, which streets to block," he said. Each of Tomball's new events came in at or below budget, thanks largely to a partnership Baxter struck up with H-E-B. The supermarket chain donated $10,000 to help fund the Rails & Tails and Chili Challenge events.
Although the Magnolia Love Bug Festival did not reach its ambitious attendance goal of 5,000—partly because of rain over the weekend—organizers said it still provided a base from which to build.
"We accomplished our goal," said Deborah Rose Miller, the city's economic development coordinator. "We pulled the community together, and we got our name out there. Every year we'll be looking for ways to make it bigger and better."
Based on parking counts and ticket sales for various events, Miller estimated around 2,500 people came by over the course of the three days. The festival raised around $6,700, which was split among the eight nonprofit organizations that helped keep things running through the weekend.
Miller said next year's event will involve a broader range of activities with more of an effort to appeal to younger people.