File photo

By Raiza Giorgi

The San Francisco event-management firm IDK Events will organize Solvang’s month-long Julefest celebration in December now that the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau has closed its doors.

The Solvang City Council hired IDK Events during a special meeting Sept. 25 on the condition that the company work with former SCVB employee Daniel Lahr as a consultant to ensure continuity with local Danish traditions.

“I have every faith that Daniel could do this event himself, however, with such a short window of time, having the resources to pull from IDK would be a great way to make the event pop even more,” said Councilwoman Karen Waite.

In response to a request for proposals, the council received three bids— from IDK, Lahr, and Pink Cadillac Entertainment. A quick decision was necessary, because Julefest starts in late November and runs through the New Year.

IDK produces street fairs and festivals such as the Union Street Fair and the annual San Francisco Pride Parade. Lahr, a Santa Ynez Valley native and formerly special programs manager for the Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau, has organized the Julefest event for the past two years and created several of it new events, including the Nisse Adventure, Glogg Contest and VIP tours.

Pink Cadillac has produced events in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria and has run the Hollywood Christmas Parade and the Culver City Centennial ceremonies.

The council heard presentations from each of the bidders as they gave their background in event planning, examples of other large-scale and/or Christmas-themed events they’ve organized, and ideas to make Julefest better.

The presenters were then asked questions from the council on how they track their audience and event-goers, marketing and advertising strategies, and how they envision Julefest becoming self-sustaining.

“We want this event to be self-sustaining, as we are looking at budgetary issues,” said Mayor Ryan Toussaint.

All of the presenters said the key to self-sustainability was having ticketed events during the week and the weekends to draw crowds for not just the major sub-events such as the Julefest Parade or tree-lighting ceremonies.

Pink Cadillac included in their bid a carnival with rides, and an ice-rink. IDK suggested hosting more smaller events throughout and encouraging more sponsorships. Lahr suggested more ticketed events and family-friendly evening events to encourage overnight stays and local participation. Lahr also suggested partnerships with local businesses and an interactive app that people could download to do scavenger hunts.

“I am a native to the Santa Ynez Valley, and I remember what it was like to experience the transformation of the beautiful city during the Christmas season. Also, after producing two highly successful years, I’ve come to know, on a first-hand account, the visitor responses, local business needs and the economic impact of Julefest to not just Solvang, but the entire Santa Ynez Valley community,” Lahr said. 

Both Pink Cadillac and Lahr suggested an early New Year’s Eve celebration at 3 p.m., which is midnight in Denmark. Pink Cadillac added in a day-time firework show for that time, which is less expensive that a nighttime show. Councilman Chris Djernaes liked that suggestion and asked if IDK was able to do the same, to which they responded yes.

Djernaes also brought up hosting a light show like the Cambria Christmas Market, and all presenters said that would be a great addition, however with time and budget constraints on a smaller scale it could possibly work and perhaps adding more in the coming years.

The only speaker during public comment was Shelby Sim, the president and CEO of Visit the Santa Ynez Valley. He spoke in favor of hiring Lahr because he is local and has already produced the event and enhanced it for the past two years.

“I believe the bigger companies could do a great job, but Daniel is the local guy that knows everything to get the job done. He has been handcuffed in the past and has incredible talents and ideas if you give him a chance,” Sim said.

When the topic came back to the council for discussion, Councilman Robert Clarke said it was obvious that Lahr has to be involved, which was echoed by Waite and Councilman Daniel Johnson.

“I like Daniel because he has the history and institutional knowledge to make sure the traditions stay alive. We are a council that doesn’t always go by the book, so why not have Daniel hired as the consultant and hire two?” Clarke suggested.

Waite said that would have to be approved by Lahr and the other presenters. An IDK representative said he had already been calling Lahr “like a debt collector” to hire him, and he offered a job to Lahr immediately.

“I don’t typically hire people without first talking to them to see if they want the job, but Daniel is great,” said IDK founder Scott Shuemake.

The council then voted to hire IDK with Lahr as a consultant, with the terms of the contracts to be negotiated. The vote was 3 -1 -1, with Djernaes abstaining saying he couldn’t make a decision, and Johnson voting no because Djernaes wanted more time.