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Could risks pay off for Chula Vista? Carlos R. Davalos | Sat, Mar 05 2011 12:00 PM

If anyone knows how to throw a party it's Laurel McFarlane.

We're not talking about your average five-kegger and a garage band in the back yard kind of party.

McFarlane's collection of public soirees includes 2009's San Diego Chargers 50th anniversary block party, next week's Mardi Gras in the Gaslamp Quarter (followed nine days later by the ShamROCK St. Patrick's Day party).

There also is the massive Monster Bash every Halloween, Fiesta Old Town Cinco de Mayo, San Diego Restaurant Week and the Chula Vista Rotary Wine and Food Festival.

The 41-year-old Chula Vista resident has been organizing some of the county's most anticipated and well attended events since 1994. Given her years of experience, it's no wonder McFarlane is able to turn 24 city blocks into New Orleans west, including a parade that features 50 floats cruising their way down one of San Diego's busiest streets.

An estimated 50,000 people are expected to attend Tuesday night's bash, and another 15,000 are probably going to make their way out to ShamROCK on March 17.

Sixty-five thousand people in downtown San Diego within two weeks. On weekdays.

That's a lot of money waiting to be spent in bars and restaurants. It's also a lot of people who will go back home and tell their friends about the great time they had and who might suggest a return visit for a night on the town away from the crowds.

Fun and word of mouth have a way of benefitting local economies.

"It takes someone who is willing to take a risk," she said, when put on the spot and asked why Chula Vista didn't have anything similar to her two upcoming bashes.

Sure, there's the annual Cinco de Mayo street fair and the Lemon Festival, both on Third Avenue, but one frequent observation is that there are more vendors and kiddie rides than bands and beer gardens. Where Lemon Festival is a street fair, Mardi Gras is an event.

McFarlane acknowledges there are community concerns to address, primarily drunks and massive crowds, but with the right planning those issues are mitigated and everyone wins.

When pressed, McFarlane said she could see a jazz festival becoming a popular draw for Chula Vista. And rather than on Third Avenue she envisions it on the city's sprawling bayfront.

Picture it, music during the day, fireworks at night and the ocean breeze mingling with happy people eager to spend money. It's just an off the cuff idea. A way to make use of the city's untapped potential.

From McFarlane's lips to somebody's ears. Somebody willing to take a risk.

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