Wurstfest, a unique German cultural celebration, has taken place at its current location, lining the Comal River near Landa Street, since 1967, and the Wurstfest nonprofit organization continues to preserve the community’s German heritage and promote the economy through tourism, according to Wurstfest Executive Director Suzanne Herbelin.
“Our goal is to not necessarily raise money to give away but to bring outside people to the festival and keep the festival healthy for the economy,” Herbelin said. “When [festival-goers] come, they stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, buy gas and spend money all over town.”
The Wurstfest festival grounds occupy 13 total acres and support more than 175,000 visitors yearly, Herbelin said.
Among the on-average 50 vendors per festival, 75% are local nonprofit organizations, such as the New Braunfels Rotary Club, Lions Club, Little League and numerous theater groups and museums.
In past years, Wurstfest has committed millions of dollars to local philanthropy projects to help provide landscaping and erosion control at Landa Park; help victims of the 1998 flooding in New Braunfels; preserve the Circle Arts and Brauntex theaters; construct, renovate and expand festival grounds; and more.
More than $7 million come through the Wurstfest gates each year, Herbelin said.
Of that $7 million, $2 million is required year to year to keep the lights on—including costs for utilities and security and $250,000 for festival entertainment.
Nonprofit vendors also make up a bulk of the revenue generated by the festival, including some nonprofit vendors that surpass sales of more than $200,000 during the 10-day festival.
“Once business moved on, leaders felt it was a good opportunity for nonprofits to come in,” Herbelin said. “There was a built-in market, a crowd in place, and the risk was minimized. We still give priority to local nonprofit clubs and organizations.”
Additional local organizations, such as churches, benefit directly from the festival by offering parking to raise money, and as the festival grounds have expanded, Wurstfest has reached out to for-profit entities to occupy new space, according to Herbelin.
“We feel like they do well,” Herbelin said about vendors and other organizations involved in the festival. “It’s hard work. Every booth has a core group of people that work their tails off, and they have to rely on hundreds of people to [volunteer].”
To focus on its primary goal of developing tourism in New Braunfels while creating a successful festival, Wurstfest has invested millions through the years in its own festival grounds.
The organization purchased the Dittlinger Feed Mill property in 1978, tripling the festival grounds, and in 1986 opened an administrative office in the Kleinehalle building. Parking was expanded in 2002 and again in 2005, and in 2007, the festival introduced a children’s entertainment area named Kinderhalle.
“Over the years, we’ve put millions back into the community—band uniforms, police cars, hospital equipment,” Herbelin said. “You name it, we’ve somehow funded it. In the past 20 or so years, we’ve really focused on those projects that are in keeping with our purpose.”
By 2010, Wurstfest featured the Stelzenhaus, a large dance hall and bar along the banks of the Comal River. The grounds were expanded again in 2014 through the biergarten and the opening of Stelzenplatz—the festival’s fifth live music stage—as well as carnival rides, food trucks and shopping.
“Everybody gets in the spirit,” Herbelin said. “It’s great to see all these people having fun, and it sort of warms your heart. We have over 300 volunteers that help produce this festival, and I think that’s why they do it—because everybody who comes has a good time.”